Braulio Sandoval, a seventh grader at West Denver Prep's Highland Campus, takes a break by the playground on December 7, 2011. (Manuel Martinez/VivaColorado)
- Mar 18:
- Hispanic students join forces at George Washington HS program
- Feb 28:
- Piden mejoras al proceso de selección de escuelas en Denver para incluir a latinos
- Feb 27:
- DPS board narrows field to three for vacant District 4 seat
- Feb 25:
- Denver program uses video to bring science to students across America
- Report: High school dropouts cost economy billions
- Feb 22:
- Estados Unidos solicita maestros mexicanos para trabajar en California y Nuevo México
- Distritos escolares buscan integrar a alumnos que no hablan inglés
- Agreement keeps Denver police out of most school discipline problems
- Feb 19:
- Agreement clarifies police role in Denver schools
- Feb 18:
- Colegio Técnico Emily Griffith ofrece aranceles unificados para estudiantes de inglés
- Se solicitan maestros para trabajar en comunidades mexicanas en EEUU
- Feb 14:
- Colorado education board reviews report on turnaround schools
- Feb 13:
- Critican proceso por no haber latinos entre los finalistas para la junta de DPS
- Feb 12:
- Process slammed for yielding no Latino Denver school board finalists
- Obama wants expanded access to pre-school
- Feb 7:
- Denver recruting teachers from corporate world
- Jan 24:
- La escuela Bruce Randolph reabrirá el viernes
- Bruce Randolph School will be open Friday
- Dec 14:
- Estudiantes de escuela en Montbello donan cobijas a centro de cuidado de ancianos
- Nov 28:
- Escuelas de Denver, educadores hispanos llegan a acuerdo sobre educación bilingüe
- Nov 25:
- Denver nonprofit helps students drop back into education
- Nov 23:
- Escuelas de Denver, educadores hispanos llegan a acuerdo sobre educación bilingüe
- Nov 13:
- Naturita library earns a gold medal at the White House
- Sep 24:
- More DPS schools making the grade, district reports
- Sep 21:
- Silverton school celebrates major upgrades — including heat
- Sep 19:
- Adams 14 one of eight school districts cooking from scratch
- Sep 16:
- Broomfield library employs service dog to make reading fun
- Sep 7:
- La Casa Blanca premia a maestra hispana de Denver por su servicio a la comunidad
- Aug 16:
- Urban learning coming to Denver Public Schools
- Aug 15:
- El desayuno es la mejor manera para que los niños comiencen el día
- New year for Adams County schools begins
- Comienza el nuevo año para las escuelas del Condado Adams
- Aug 13:
- More than 300 teachers leave Douglas County schools
- Aug 1:
- Denver parents split on whether to pull kids from school where suspect worked
- Jul 13:
- One Book One Denver recompensa a los jóvenes lectores con helados y trivia
- Jun 21:
- Latino high school students to legislate action at Colorado State University
- DPS pediría $500 millones de aumento en impuestos a la propiedad
- Jun 15:
- Frank Roti's dedication as educator clashes with accusations of altering CSAP answers
- Jun 13:
- University of Colorado regent looking to cut tuition for immigrants
- Jun 8:
- Denver school in cheating scandal ponders fate; DPS says upheaval not slated
- May 27:
- Education experts disagree on importance of school class size
- May 25:
- Parents fight new school on Denver's North High campus
- Miguel Villalon, principal at Lafayette's Escuela Bilingue Pioneer Elementary, steps down
- ¿Policía y esposas para estudiantes revoltosos?
- May 22:
- Report: DPS still doesn't make the grade, despite effort and improvement
- May 19:
- Denver parents, kids rally for principal in suspected cheating case
- May 18:
- School pulls boy from class for black face costume
- Kids' high CSAP scores didn't stick after leaving Denver school
- May 17:
- Denver principal of school in cheating probe got bonuses for stellar scores
- May 16:
- Two Denver schools investigated for abnormalities on standardized tests
- Profesores de idiomas en Colorado son reemplazados por software
- May 15:
- Suspicions of widespread cheating at two Denver elementaries spur investigation
- May 8:
- Colorado high schools given high marks in national ranking
- May 4:
- Colorado boy, 6, suspended for sexual harassment
- May 3:
- Colorado school-supply tax-holiday bill draws wide support, disdain
- Apr 27:
- Aurora schools work to combat the issue of bullying
- Apr 25:
- Child literacy bill altered in Colorado
- Apr 23:
- Noel arts school in Denver gets $20,000 grant for reform efforts
- Apr 18:
- More Colorado districts on board with school-bus ads
- Mar 26:
- Colorado tests of new teacher evaluation system raise doubts
- Mar 25:
- Fake crimes teach real lessons for Aurora students
- Mar 22:
- DPS might have to pay to create jobs for pink-slipped teachers
- Mar 21:
- Colorado's elementary schools strive to give kids more exercise
- Mar 20:
- Bill to hold students back a grade for poor reading moves ahead
- Mar 19:
- Hearing set Monday on alleged racial bias in DPS staffing
- Mar 11:
- Manual High School in Denver to discuss renewed efforts at reform
- Mar 9:
- Colorado legislature, school districts debate effectiveness of having struggling students repeat a grade
- Mar 8:
- George Washington high principal resigns after two troubled years at helm
- Reporte: Arrestan con más frecuencia a estudiantes de minorías
- Mar 7:
- Report: Minority students arrested more often
- Feb 17:
- Jeffco schools budget plan saves teachers for a year
- Denver turnaround schools show "unreal" improvement in students' math scores
- Denver's Montbello neighborhood gets rolling on federal program to curb youth violence
- Feb 15:
- No cussing in class for teachers, lawmaker says
- Boy genius's book reveals life in college at age 8
- Feb 13:
- Proponen nuevas normas de lectura para estudiantes de tercer grado
- Feb 9:
- 10 estados, incluyendo Colorado, exceptuados de ley sobre educación
- Colorado among the states chosen to get out of No Child Left Behind rules
- Feb 8:
- Denver Public Schools loses two appeals before state ed board
- Feb 4:
- Pilot program helps DPS track seniors' college financial-aid forms
- Feb 1:
- Colorado school tastes success with student breakfast program
- Jan 31:
- Teacher union files grievance over plan to extend middle school day in Denver
- Termina hoy el plazo para elegir escuelas en Denver
- Jan 30:
- Education: States should do more to reach students
- New teacher tenure rules closer to approval in Colorado
- Jan 25:
- Libros para niños: Presentes para construir futuros
- School lunches to have more veggies, whole grains
- Jan 24:
- iPads in class energize kids as teachers test how to use them
- Jan 23:
- 'Lobato' school funding decision appealed by Colorado Attorney General John Suthers
- Lafayette's Sanchez Elementary looks to become a turnaround story
- Jan 20:
- Denver Public Schools post gains in on-time graduation rates
- Jan 18:
- DPS offers new school-start options to dodge heat
- Jan 17:
- Reforms pitched for Colorado schools' zero-tolerance rules
- Jan 12:
- Community College of Denver gets building all its own
- Charters make DPS' growth performance look better than it is, says A-Plus Denver
- Jan 11:
- Colorado Legacy Foundation wins $10.5M grant to push AP courses
- Jan 6:
- Two Colorado middle schools offer college-level remedial math class
- Jan 5:
- West Denver Prep usa buena reputación para atraer estudiantes
- Jan 1:
- Denver Public Schools' new school choice system stressing out some parents
- Dec 27:
- State ed board says it will appeal Lobato decision forcing retool of school finance
- Dec 15:
- Children of color to make up majority of Colorado's under-18 population by 2021
- Dec 13:
- Safety violations found at Head Start centers
- Dec 12:
- Nuevo sitio de Internet califica a las escuelas de Colorado de la A a la F
- Dec 11:
- Denver judge's ruling on school funding levels blisters state's witnesses
- Dec 10:
- Denver court decision in education suit says Colorado is underfunding schools by billions
- Dec 9:
- Distrito Escolar de Aurora recibe subsidio para programas de salud
- Denver schools panel recommends later start date to avoid summer heat
- Dec 7:
- Charter school enrollment surges in Colorado and nationwide
- Nov 30:
- Denver's Manual extends school year by 39 days
- Nov 28:
- Universidad de Colorado en Denver se asocia con fondo hispano de becas
- Nov 26:
- Colorado voter turnout shows high interest in education reform
- Nov 22:
- Escuelas Públicas de Denver implementan nuevo sistema de inscripciones
- Nov 18:
- Comienza una nueva temporada de EDUCA, el programa radial de las escuelas de Denver
- Nov 17:
- Escuelas de Denver reciben subsidio federal para preparar alumnos para la universidad
- Nov 16:
- Denver schools will use federal grant to get kids into college
- Nov 15:
- Congress pushes back on healthier school lunches
- Nov 14:
- Schools snap up porn domains to keep them clean
- Nov 11:
- Detectan discrepancia demográfica entre maestros y alumnos en Colorado
- Oct 27:
- Denver schools panel will weigh moving fall start date past dog days of August
- Oct 24:
- Schools brace for more budget cuts
- Oct 17:
- Senators announced agreement on education law
- Oct 6:
- Prominent Denver Latinos campaign against two candidates on school board
- Oct 4:
- Middle school improvements credited for big gain in Denver Public Schools enrollment
- Oct 2:
- Hispanic students vanish from Alabama schools
- Sep 26:
- Denver Public Schools performances on rise
- Sep 15:
- GOP voices opposition to $3B tax hike for schools
- Sep 12:
- Latin lost in budget translation at Jeffco schools
- Sep 9:
- Heat-related illnesses spur petition for Sept. school start in Denver
- Sep 1:
- School board's Merida changes mind, will repay some excess spending
- Denver school board to re-examine limits after board members overspent
- Aug 23:
- Students at Kent Denver School study Trinidad earthquake on first day of school
- Aug 22:
- Back-to-school can mean vaccines for tweens, teens
- Aug 19:
- Higher prices: the big trend for back-to-school
- Aug 11:
- Richard Garcia helps immigrant parents get involved in schools
- Aug 1:
- Colorado schools' increasing fees put pinch on families
- Jul 1:
- Denver school board OKs 8 new schools, innovation status for 6 more
- Jun 20:
- Jeffco schools to charge fees for online lunch payments
- Jun 14:
- LA school district votes to ban flavored milk
- Jun 6:
- Denver community groups recommend phasing out West High School
- May 30:
- School districts in north Denver metro area consider bus fees
- May 23:
- Colorado school discipline review to be signed into law
- May 17:
- New Denver Public Schools discipline system isn't embraced by all
- May 13:
- Bus fees coming for Jeffco schools
It's a cold Saturday morning in Montbello. A small group of people are gathered at a local doughnut shop coming up with the recruiting strategy that will have them knocking on the doors of about 125 fifth-graders in the area.
The goal? To persuade parents to sign up their children for one of the two brand new middle schools they're opening up in the area come August.
The challenge? Most parents have never heard of West Denver Prep - a network of high-performing college-prep charter schools that got started in the west part of town and is now venturing into the far northeast - and know nothing about its reputation.
"Whenever we go into a new neighborhood, it's always the toughest because the neighborhood doesn't know," says Alicia Lucero, enrollment manager.
That's why her recruiters - which include school staff, students and parents - know there'll be a lot of uninterested parents who won't even give them a chance to explain why the Montbello and Green Valley Ranch campuses of WDP might be a good fit for their kids. Armed with test scores and top performance rankings to prove their successful track record, the recruiters hope to persuade them otherwise.
Opened in 2006 with the chief purpose of preparing students for college, the network of four schools caters almost entirely to 1,100 low-income children of color (90% are Latino) in grades 6-8. In 2009, WDP got approval to open two more campuses, one in Lake and the other one in Highland, but not before a contentious battle on the school board and in the community. Many teachers, parents and community members balked at the idea of struggling Lake Middle School having to share its campus with WDP.
Controversy aside, the schools have thrived.
In 2011, its Harvey Park campus ranked No. 1 for academic growth as measured by the Colorado Student Assessment Program tests. The other three campuses ranked in the top seven.
In addition, in 2011, all four campuses earned a "distinguished" School Performance Framework rating, meaning they exceeded district expectations by achieving high academic status and growth. DPS uses the rating to measure each school's performance based on student academic growth, student academic proficiency, parent satisfaction, re-enrollment rates and student engagement.
Photos: West Denver Prep hopes high scores will lure new students
The art of recruiting
On this particular morning, the recruiting team, which includes the principals of the two new schools, hopes all this favorable information will help them persuade parents on the fence. All recruiters are equipped with marketing materials and Google maps showing where current fifth-graders live.
"It's just a time for us to make sure that every fifth-grader knows there's an awesome option in their neighborhood," says Lucero.
After a minor mixup with the first address, Jennifer Troy, who will lead the Montbello campus, and a student get out of her car in front of the first house on their list.
"Let's see how it goes," Troy says cheerfully as she walks to the front door.
Jennifer Troy, principal of West Denver Prep s new Montbello campus, speaks with Yvonne Olivas and her daughter Brianna about the charter schools rankings and reputation during a recruitment visit. (Manuel Martinez/Viva Colorado)
She has to ring the doorbell twice before a couple of girls come to the door. Their parents are not home so she leaves some information.
The team of two crosses the street and knocks on someone else's door. Loud Spanish music is coming out the windows, but it's a while before Briana Olivas, 10, finally answers. When she acknowledges that she's in fifth grade, Troy asks for her mother.
Yvonne Olivas comes to the door. Troy delivers her spiel. As expected, Olivas says she's never heard of the new school and that she plans on just sending her daughter to Martin Luther King Middle College, the same school her older children already attend.
Troy tells Olivas about WDP's high rankings. She also tells her that they expect all of their students to not only go to but also to graduate from a four-year college.
Olivas doesn't seem completely convinced, but she's not uninterested either.
"She showed some interest," says Troy later. "That's good. We'll have to follow up."
Lucero, the enrollment manager, hasn't been so lucky.
"It's hard when they think we're trying to sell something," she says as she walks up to a brown house. The woman who comes to the door doesn't even let her introduce herself, says they're trying to get dressed.
"Can I leave something with you?" asks Lucero. But all she gets is an emphatic no right before the homeowner shuts the door.
Students go to their classrooms after attending the morning meeting at West Denver Prep's Highland campus on Dec. 7, 2011.
(Manuel Martinez/Viva Colorado)
"I haven't had any success," Lucero says.
But her luck is about to change.
At first, it doesn't seem like Jeanne Kouakou is at all interested as she listens to Lucero through her kitchen window. But something she says catches Kouakou's attention and she asks Lucero to come in.
At the kitchen table, Lucero is about to explain why WDP is a great choice for Tiffany, but first she asks what her favorite subject is. "Reading," the fifth-grader says.
"Guess what? We have two periods of reading," boasts Lucero.
In fact, because many students enter WDP schools an average of two years below grade level, students receive two periods - or 100 minutes - of math and reading every day.
But that's not the only thing that's different at WDP's four middle school campuses.
Not a typical middle school
For starters, every morning, as students walk through the door, they are greeted by their principal. "They know all of them by name," says Lucero.
The school day - which starts at 7:45 a.m. and ends at 4:20 p.m., making it longer than the majority of the public schools in Denver - begins with a morning meeting in which teachers make announcements, talk about expectations and celebrate students' accomplishments. It's all about "building a sense of community," Lucero says.
Because their whole purpose is for their students to strive for college, everything at WDP revolves around this objective. Grades are identified by the year their students will graduate from college. A current sixth-grader, then, belongs to the Class of 2022.
Memorabilia from different universities abounds throughout each campus. In fact, each classroom bears the name of its teacher's alma mater.
Classrooms are equipped with smart boards and all teachers develop their own curriculum based on local, state and national standards. Students do not rotate from class to class; teachers do. The school day is rigorous and students get homework every single day, but they can call their teachers at home if they need help.
Seventh-grader Zoey Aragon says what she likes most about DWP is "the support we get from our teachers."
"They care more about our future than they would at other middle schools," says the 12-year-old who loves math and science and would like to become a forensic scientist.
A merit system that rewards students for their efforts and good behavior keeps most of them on track. Every six weeks, students are given a "paycheck" that reflects their conduct and which they can use to purchase stuff like school supplies and gift cards at what they call the Strive Store.
"Every day we're constantly rewarding students, setting them up for success," says Lucero. "Instead of telling them, 'Don't do that,' we teach them about good choices."
Students wear uniforms that consist of jeans, a polo shirt (its color is based on the student's grade), a black or brown belt and black or brown dress shoes. Girls can't wear makeup, dye their hair or use fake nails.
"At first, I didn't like that you have to wear a uniform and tuck your shirt in. I wasn't used to wearing fancy shoes, but I'm kind of getting used to it now," says 11-year-old Alberto Nava, who is in sixth grade and wants to go to the University of Florida to become a doctor. His parents didn't finish high school and now his older siblings and him have their sights on college.
WDP's mission of "providing opportunity for all students regardless of their background and their income level" is what convinced reading teacher Lee Vigil to work at the Highland campus. In fact, WDP is a family affair, she says. Her daughter is in seventh grade and her husband, Antonio Vigil, has designed and will lead WDP's first high school, SMART (Science, Math and Arts) Academy, in the fall.
"There's a connection between teacher, student and family. We all depend on each other," says Lee Vigil.
"The students and parents know that and it starts when we knock on the doors of fifth-graders to talk about our promise."
Just like Lucero has been doing in Kouakou's kitchen back in Montbello. The enrollment manager is wrapping up her presentation about WDP and their promise that every student will attend college.
"It sounds like a good school," says Kouakou after the 15-minute meeting.
Both mother and daughter have shown a lot of interest, asked a lot of questions and want to continue the conversation.
"That makes me go home happy," says Lucero.