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Denver Weekly News - Thusday, November 10, 2005

Education Task Force Releases Findings

By Adeeba Folami, Denver Weekly News

Teacher assistant Shirley Bankston, (center), with preschoolers: (l to r) Nephraterie,
Kaclyn, Maya, Emili and Jared. The 4 1/2 to 5 year olds are part of the HOPE Cener's
ECE program which is the highest rated in the sate.

The 27-member Denver Public Schools Task Force on Early Education and School Readiness was commissioned last year by the Board of Education to “recommend effective policies and partnerships” that would guide the school system in improving performance of students through increased emphasis on their pre-kindergarten learning experiences.

After a year of research and fact gathering, the task force released its findings and recommendations at a Nov. 8 news conference held at The HOPE Center (HC) in Northeast Denver. Task force members Bruce Hoyt, Helen Thorpe, George Brantley and Rosemary Rodriguez, along with DPS Superintendent Michael Bennet, issued comments on the report of findings. A brochure outlining the results of the group’s work and other pertinent information was made available under the title “Ready for Kindergarten." [Also available online at: http://deesr.dpsk12.org] “The DPS task force has met to discuss related literature, research, data and to exchange professional and personal experience,” Brantley said. The HC Executive Director went on to introduce Thorpe, who is an education activist, mother, writer and wife of Mayor John Hickenlooper. She served as co-chair of the committee which consisted of early childhood education (ECE) providers, foundation executives, education professionals and community leaders.

Denver’s first lady gave an overview of various studies the group analyzed over the past year which show that children in other areas excel as a result of participation in ECE programs. She explained that there is a difference in achievement levels between children from high versus low income homes. One example used indicated that those from upper income homes knew 20-25 letters of the alphabet before starting kindergarten while children from lower income homes knew less than five. "It is incredibly difficult for children who start off so far behind to catch up,” she said. “It is critical to address what happens with kids aged zero to five so they can walk into kindergarten on a level playing field.”

This pre-K attention is what the highly-rated HOPE Center is known for. Brantley told DWN the facility is one of the top rated ECE centers in the state and went on to call it a shame that few in the community are aware of the great work being done on the corner of Bruce Randolph Ave. and Elizabeth Street.

The center has been open at the location for almost two decades and got its start after a vacant, run down grocery store was renovated into a first rate establishment which is now positively influencing the lives of many children and their families. Gerie Grimes, HC Deputy Director, said over 200 children, aged two to eight, are served there, some participating in classes for gifted students, others in special needs courses or younger children in day care programs which also make provision for older children enrolled in elementary classes elsewhere but who attend the day care center before and after school.

The center is staffed with highly qualified teachers, assistants, specialists and foster grandparents – enough to allow an advantageous student/teacher ratio. Brantley says the ratio at times is as low as one adult per every three students, well in line with the rate recommended by the task force.

“By 2009, the maximum class size for a pre-K class with 40% or more of the children eligible for free or reduced price lunch will be 17 with at least two credentialed adults in the classroom,” the task force report states.

Grimes proudly cited that HC preschool classes do not exceed 16 children who are assigned to at least two trained adults and Brantley added that the center’s preschool class is the highest rated in the state. He attributes the success to the training of staff members and their awareness of children’s needs.

Bennet found the ECE center to be a commendable model and living example of the ideals put forth in the task force’s findings and the DPS chief is looking forward to implementing the report’s recommendations throughout the school system. “We have very ambitious plans for our school district,” he said. “[This report] comes at a very timely moment and I can assure you it is not going to be something that we just put on the shelf. It is going to be integrated into the work that we do and I can’t wait to get started.”



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