When we asked students at Denver South High School to tell us what they liked best about their school, the answer was always the same: “our diversity.” South’s students, they said, feel safe and supported, mix easily, and enjoy learning from each other.
Taking into consideration as well the school’s academically stimulating curriculum, South emerges as an exemplar of how diversity becomes a core strength when embraced by a school. Students from Burma, El Salvador, Eritrea, Guatemala, Iraq, Mexico, Somalia, Syria, Ukraine and 41 other nations, speaking over 60 languages, learn together in an environment that radiates collaboration.
All of South’s teachers are currently (or soon will be) certified to teach English Language Learners, and the school is staffed with paraprofessionals and translators to support students and families. To encourage parent involvement, teachers and administrators make home visits to all incoming ninth-grade families. The school also provides buses for parents who normally rely on public transportation so that they can attend school functions. A Newcomer Program serves students with little or no formal schooling, as they and their families navigate the American education system while learning English and catching up on basics.
Denver South actively recruits students of color to its honors and Advanced Placement (AP) programs. A school-wide peer mentoring program encourages students to join AP, honors and concurrent enrollment courses, with impressive results: enrollment of students of color in higher-level courses jumped from 70 to 424 students in just one year. The school has no low-track classes.
Students in the school’s Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program also take AP and honors classes, and the school offers tutoring and other supports. Student-centered classrooms emphasize collaboration, and teachers trained in differentiation ensure that all students—including English learners and special education students—can participate equally.
The curriculum also includes a range of courses that reflect the cultural backgrounds and interests of the students, as well as heritage language literacy classes in Spanish and Arabic. This year the science department is highlighting a theme of women in science across its courses. Eighty percent of South’s students are involved in athletics or one of 60 student-led clubs.