Jefferson County Schools

Wheat Ridge High School embraces districts 2020 vision

Jeffco Schools hopes to teach students more about life than textbooks

Posted 5/30/17

The goal for all Jefferson County Schools graduates is for them to not only master the Colorado academic standards, but also excel in civic and global engagement; communication; critical thinking and creativity; and self direction and personal …

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Jefferson County Schools

Wheat Ridge High School embraces districts 2020 vision

Jeffco Schools hopes to teach students more about life than textbooks

Posted

The goal for all Jefferson County Schools graduates is for them to not only master the Colorado academic standards, but also excel in civic and global engagement; communication; critical thinking and creativity; and self direction and personal responsibility.

Those are the guidelines laid out in the districts 2020 Vision plan, which was launched in 2015.

Though the school district reports that several of its schools are making strides towards the goals of the vision plan, one example of a place that embraced the mission is Wheat Ridge High School.

“In my mind, the 2020 vision is taking care of all kids and their differing needs and including the community in helping us to do that,” said Wheat Ridge High School Principal Griff Wirth.

Most recently the school created a new partnership with the Colorado Construction Institute to solve shortages in skilled trades.

“It’s a good opportunity for me to learn about instruction,” said Donal McGrail, 18, who wants to incorporate his love of theater and construction skills to be a set designer.

McGrail is one of four students learning construction skills at the Colorado Construction Institute.

“I think what we have been trying to figure out in Jeffco 2020 it opportunities for all kids,” Wirth said. “We’re doing very good for opportunities for advanced learners, but what about our at-risk kids? So, we decided to attack that challenge.”

Wheat Ridge put together a career exploration program that focuses on three industries that are dying for workers: hospitality, construction and health care.

The school identified 28 students for the program who were considered “at-risk” of not succeeding in school because of a lack in credits, free and reduced lunch status, special education needs, or did not attend school regularly.

Before enrolling in the construction class, Jesus Hernandez, 18, wasn’t showing up for school. But his instructor at the Construction Institute, Mark Babcock, says now he arrives 30 minutes early for class. Jesus now has aspirations of being a framer and eventually a developer.

“We designed the program to try to see if we can reengage them in school and give them work skills,” Wirth said.

Students in the program attend two months of academic boot camp blended with career exploration. In boot camp, they work on soft skills and employability. After that, they work with community partners for skill training. Training is three to eight weeks long followed by a paid internship.

“I think the problem we’ve had is the way we’ve looked at education for a long time says all kids need to go to college,” Wirth said. “I think a lot of times kids feel like if they don’t go to college they’re a failure. But the research tells us that 30 percent of our jobs require a four year degree right now. We’ve been trying to send 100 percent to college, when economy doesn’t support that.”

Wirth hopes that the skill trade programs offered by Wheat Ridge help change that.

But even before the 2020 Vision was implemented Wheat Ridge and other district schools were already embracing programs like STEM and STEAM.

The high school started a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program which would allow students to take on big projects, research them, design, tweak and build them while partnering with community engineers.

Recently that STEM Team claimed a first-place victory at the annual Shell Eco-Marathon in which they showed off their prototype hydrogen fuel cell car.

The win marks the second national title won by the Farmers.

The cars are displayed inside the school.

“They continue to use critical thinking and creativity and expand the frame of what might work,” said Matt Flores, Chief Academic Officer for Jeffco Schools, of the STEM students. “That to me is a great example of Jeffco 2020.”

From the STEM program, grew STEAM with a “A” added for art. Those students have installed a statue at Lutheran Hospital and worked this year on creating a fog wall that utilizes ionized water to create pictures.

Before both of those programs, the Gifted and Talented Center was launched at the school, nine years ago.

Wirth says the center filled a void for the GT students who were getting bored in class and dropping out.

“GT kids, I think there’s a misperception about who they are,” Wirth said. “People look a gifted kids as an easy road, but there’s a whole lot of different giftedness. They view the world differently.”

The GT program at Wheat Ridge, which pulls high school students from the whole district, allows gifted students to pursue passions and interests in an advanced academic setting.

“It’s an opportunity for them to be in that group with like peers,” Wirth said, adding that a lot of students in the program are twice gifted — meaning that they fall on the gifted scale academically but also struggle with things like anxiety, depression or autism.

Wirth is retiring this year, but he said he is excited that newly named Superintendent Jason Glass will be coming on board in Jeffco.

“I hope that he embraces the 2020 Vision,” Wirth said. “If he embraces that, then schools like Wheat Ridge will become models for what a school could look like.”

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Newport

You read this article and you say, gee, what a great job Griff and his team have done at WRHS!

All these successful initiatives (as well as lots of arts and athletics success) at a school where half the students are eligible for free and reduced lunch, and where more than half of the incoming 9th graders are reading a 7th grade level or lower. And where ACT scores have held steady even as the percent of free and reduced students has doubled in the past 7 years?

But what has the district leadership done? Celebrated their success? Delved deeply to learn the lessons of how they did it? Tried to expand WRHS' success to other schools?

No. They are proposing to cut funding to the GT Center by up to $100,000 starting in the 2018-2019 school year, which will inevitably force cutbacks in the GT, STEM, and Career Pathways and Career Explore programs. And in the face of those program cuts, students will stop choicing into WRHS, and before long the City of Wheat Ridge will join Jefferson and Alameda as the locations of Jeffco's Title 1 high schools. So much for the 2020 Vision.

The destruction of Wheat Ridge HS will no doubt do wonders for retail sales and property values in the City of Wheat Ridge and nearby Arvada, won't it? But WRHS won't be making other high schools look bad by comparison anymore. The district has cut the tall poppy down to size, regardless of the consequences for the kids (and especially our most vulnerable kids for whom education is often their only hope) or WR property owners -- or, for that matter, their fellow Democrats in WR local and state government. They don't shy away from arrogance, do they?

Faced with these actions by district leaders and the apparent support for them by the members of the Board of Education (including Ali Lasell who represents Wheat Ridge), Griff and his two top Assistant Principals chose to resign, rather than preside over the destruction of WRHS. That's what stand-up guys do (much to the district leaders' embarrassment).

And other districts and organizations are now beating down the doors to get their hands on the talent that Jeffco just forced out.

Makes you crazy, doesn't it?

Wednesday, May 31