Part 6 — Trevista — High Hopes

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Trevista mom helps her daughter find her name on student class list.

Last spring, Colorado Public Radio chronicled the tumultuous final months of the school-year at Trevista --a Kindergarten through 8th grade school in northwest Denver. The school had been struggling for years and was finally ordered by the state and district to “turnaround.” That means with an infusion of federal funds, virtually all new teachers and a new principal – the school must now show rapid academic gains. This is the first in a series of reports on the “new” Trevista.

[Photo: CPR]

Here is a transcript of CPR’s education reporter Jenny Brundin’s report.

Click here for a transcript of all the stories in our Trevista series.

Monique Henderson: Rayshawn come here!

Reporter Jenny Brundin: Monique Henderson calls out to her 8 year old son, Rayshawn. She tells him to put his shoes on.

Henderson If you’re out in the grass and stuff, ‘cause those are brand new socks!

Reporter: Rayshawn, exuberant, in socks, is whooping it up.

(sound of music and clapping)

It’s Trevista’s welcome back party after all, ushering in a new school year --at a new Trevista. It’s a welcome back for Rayshawn, too. He attended Trevista as a Kindergartner. But he was bullied and his mom says, it distracted him. She switched her kids into another school, but Rayshawn got kicked out.

Rayshawn Henderson: They would always would be mean to me and talk about my mom and do other stuff and I don’t like it and I keep on hitting people and I spray the principal with cleaning spray, so I got kicked out.

Reporter: So the third-grader is back at Trevista. He says he’s forgotten his math. But his mom has high hopes for this year:

Henderson: That they just receive the education they need and I’m pretty sure that they will with the turnaround.

Reporter:The call for the turnaround came last fall. Trevista was at the bottom in terms of performance. Only about a quarter of Trevista’s students were reading or doing math at grade level. In middle school - in writing and math– only 14 percent. By the end of the year, the school did see scores jump 9 percent for middle schoolers. But the progress was too late. Most of the teachers were replaced. Only one classroom teacher from last year decided to stay.

(ambience of teachers talking)....

Reporter: And now with this new team, the stakes are high, the challenges immense. Teachers began preparing in July. It’s the usual things -- how to bring these kids up academically. Teachers also walked the neighborhoods, which include Denver’s largest housing project -- getting to know families. They had a 3-day retreat where they tackled hard issues. Teacher Julie Dani says sometimes, it was uncomfortable.

Julie Dani: Talking about racism and talking about things that are uncomfortable and things that we might encounter here.

Reporter: Like, a culture gap between students and teachers, and kids who may feel ostracized. That difficult work she thinks was essential.

Dani: And I don’t think we’d be able to work together effectively without that base of community that we already built.

(sound fades up)

Reporter: From there, teachers decided on the most important values that should be reflected in everything they do.

Principal LaDawn Baity: By overwhelming majority, was “Students First” -- that shows where our priorities are…(fade down)

Reporter: Putting students first, making the school joyful, connecting to the community, and teaching and showing students respect. And they talked a lot about how to make that part of everyday life at school.

Assistant Principal Kal Roa: If we don’t want our students to blow up on us and lose it with us, a) they need to have a voice feel valued and be able to talk to us about things respectfully…and then we have to do the same thing back...

Reporter: One of the schools three assistant principals Kal Roa leads a workshop on what those values will look like in action, for parents and kids. Things like addressing parents with Mr. and Mrs. Showing kids how respectful language can serve them better in the bigger world, like in the classroom or in the workplace. And telling them the good things about their children, not just the bad. But at the same time, this teacher says, no sugarcoating.

Teacher talking in group: “….they might not have been given honest information about reading levels or math levels and those conversations are going to be hard, but when we talk about goal-setting and where we want our kids to be, we have to be honest with them.

Reporter: Being honest and transparent with kids started in the form of a letter teacher Christina Rodriguez wrote to her fifth and sixth graders, even before she got the class roster. She’ll show it to them later in the school year. It was a list of promises.

Christina Rodriguez: I promise to provide you with an environment that is safe, welcoming, warm and is the best place for you to learn.

Reporter: Rodriguez knows it will be hard work. In the letter, she tells hers students they won’t like her all the time, but that’s OK. She wants them to know…

Rodriguez: ….that I’m going to be here for the long haul. I’m committed to them.

Reporter: The past few years, Trevista has had a tough time with student behavior – especially with middle schoolers. Rodriguez expects to be challenged – but knows that’s typically just a cry out for respect, for kids like this one, to know their voice matters.

Eric Romero I’m Eric and I’m 11.

Reporter : Eric Romero got pretty good grades last year – 3’s out of 4’s. But his mom Nicole was getting calls weekly, that he wasn’t listening, that he was tuning out. His mom’s take on it?

Nicole Romero: He’s getting in trouble because you’re boring him to death.

Reporter: Her daughter is a bookworm who likes to read and write but Eric….

Romero: Since first grade, is so articulate, so hands-one, wants to be experimenting. He knows what he’s doing. But he’s so bored in the classroom. There wasn’t enough activity for him, there wasn’t enough you know …art. They weren’t reaching him as I wanted them to, as I knew they could.

Reporter: Romero talked to the teachers, talked to the principal. But, she says, nothing changed. Here’s Eric:

Romero: None of the teachers really asked me, what’s going on, is there anything wrong with you? Just stuff that needed to be asked.

Reporter:When Romero heard about the school turnaround – her reaction?

Romero: Yes, yes, yes, you know, yes!

Reporter: Finally she thought, somebody had noticed that something wasn’t right. She has a goal this year.

Romero: I’m hoping to see growth in my oldest. And him not be left out. Not feel like he’s the burden.

Reporter: And Eric isn’t daunted. He says he wants to run for student council.

Eric Romero: I want to make lunch menus, I want to put bottles of water in the lunch room instead of just white milk and chocolate milk, I want better staff to be more on alert instead of just hang back and not watch anything.

Reporter: 7th grader Jesus also has high hopes. After a lot of hard work – last year he was finally reading at grade level. He wants to build on that progress this year. Without the distractions he’s had.

Jesus: I always get bullied every day, people call me fat ass, and it makes my feelings, like my heart breaking…..

Reporter: We’ll check in on Rayshawn, Eric, Jesus, and other students throughout the year. We’ll also follow progress in the classroom, how teachers are dealing with the challenges, what the principal’s doing to maintain those high expectations and adjust when necessary. And parents--who want the tumult at Trevista to stop. Nicole Romero:

Romero: I want to love Trevista. It’s our school. It’s our community. Let’s get together and build this up. Let’s make our kids – who are in the shadow – grow. We’re giants. Let’s show them.

Click here for a transcript of all the stories in our Trevista series.