Dear Colorado State Board of Education,
We are calling on you as a group of student leaders with Our Turn Colorado to direct the investment of American Recovery Plan federal stimulus funds in line with Colorado student priorities. We have been actively participating in the Colorado Department of Education stakeholder engagement process, from submitting student feedback via their survey, to participating in the student roundtable conversation in July. Additionally, we have had more than 50 one-on-one conversations with students from across multiple school districts in the front range, and have gathered feedback from all of these actions to share with you today.
Across all of these spaces, several issues have risen to the top. Colorado students self-identified these areas as opportunities for high impact and immediate improvement. We are calling on you to fund;
- Mental Health Supports
- Provide districts funds to hire diverse mental health counselors
- Invest in trauma-informed training for teachers and school staff
- Stronger Supports for Students of Color in Schools
- Invest in hiring and retaining staff of color
- Prioritize funding to introduce more culturally responsive curriculum
- Increase Access to Counseling for Post Graduation Pathways
- Fund diverse college & career/ academic counselors who...
- Meet with students starting in 9th grade to help them discover the best post-graduation pathway
- Providing direct support for college application and financial aid (applying for FAFSA, writing essays, applying for scholarship etc)
- Participating in trauma informed and inherent bias training
- Hire more college & career/academic counselors of color, who are first generation college students, or who share the lived experiences of students
In funding these student priorities it is incredibly important that our allocation of resources is equitable. We are calling on you to commit to using an equitable distribution formula that:
- Prioritizes resources to the schools and areas that have seen underinvestment historically, and takes into account data points such as
- Percentage of student on FRL, students in need of assistive technology, students with disabilities, and students of color
- Graduation and dropout rates
- Staff:Student ratios
Attached you will find several testimonies from current colorado public schools students and recent alumni sharing their support for increasing resources to these areas, and doing so equitably.
Thank you for your time and consideration,
Student Leaders of Our Turn Colorado
My name is Lexie Allen, and as an alumna of Colorado Public Schools, and a college student currently at MSU Denver, I have come to understand the importance of having a culturally responsive curriculum and representation in schools. As a black female student, there have been negative impacts on my education experience due to the lack of representation in the classroom from teachers and within the learning material. As I move further along, I'm just now learning about a majority of the contributions, and progress made by people of color (especially women of color) in our society. As I journey along through higher education, I don't see a lot of people like me. This creates a lot of self-doubt and imposter syndrome because I often question if I'm smart enough or worthy enough of being successful and obtaining the degree of my desire (Ph.D.). There has to be more people of color, but most importantly women of color representing higher education, and different fields of study, especially in predominantly white fields. Students of color, especially younger students of color, need to see teachers that look like them and learn about people like them that have made a huge difference in the world. There are people and women of color who have been highly successful and have made a positive impact. We need to encourage students of color and women of color that they too have the right and ability to make a positive impact. That is why I am calling on you as leaders to ensure that incoming funding goes to support more representation in staff and culturally responsive curriculum in schools.
- Lexie Allen, Cherry Creek School District Alumna
Dear State Board of Education members, I am calling on you to support students by investing federal stimulus dollars into more diverse mental health counselors/resources as well as a better ratio of counselors to students. My name is Meron Damtew, and I am a current sophomore at a jeffco public school, throughout my years in the public education system I've been able to see many students including myself struggle with finding these resources in school because not only are there not enough counselors to be able to properly support each and every student in the school but also there is a lack of representation in these counselors. Without this representation of multiple cultures in our mental health resources, it causes students to struggle to feel comfortable around them, as well as it's difficult for many counselors to understand the students struggle because of such different backgrounds and cultures. Without these changes of more counselors per student and more representation within these counselors the mental health department for students will simply continue to struggle and fail for many students. That is why I am calling you as leaders to ensure that incoming funding goes to support more and diverse mental health staff in schools.
- Meron Damtew, Current student in Jeffco Public Schools
Dear State Board of Education members, I am calling on you to support students by investing stimulus dollars into more mental health counselors and staff in our schools. My name is Aniya Beasley, I am a junior within the Denver Public Schools District. Attending Dps schools throughout my life really opened me up to see the struggles that my peers and students of color go through when it comes to mental health, and being involved in community conversations I am exposed to the needs and the wants of students like myself. I am able to be more in touch with the things we need, and making our voices heard. Mental health is a super serious issue, having staff that resonate with students of color would be powerfully moving within all Colorado School districts. That is why I am calling on you as leaders to ensure that incoming funding goes to support diverse mental health staff in schools.
- Aniya Beasley, current student in Denver Public Schools
Dear State Board of Education members, I am calling on you to support students by investing federal stimulus dollars into equity for students with disabilities. My name is Zaria Dempsey, and as a community member and a disabled student, graduate, who spent their entire educational experience in Denver Public Schools, I have experienced the effects of not having adequate resources for those of us with disabilities throughout my education career. This issue is often heightened for students of color who do not often even know about what few resources there are for them. This is especially important when taking into consideration the pandemic's impact on the way we all learn and function in school. It has been even harder to reach out and access resources or even your case manager, assuming you have one or know who they are, meaning that accommodations were in even shorter supply and it was harder to keep up. That's why I'm calling on you as leaders to ensure that incoming funding goes to ensuring access and support for students with disabilities.
- Zaria Dempsey, alumna of Denver Public Schools
Post Graduation Pathways are very important as the path that a student takes determines their future. At times first generation students don’t even know where to begin in determining what their future will look like compared to that of a student with parents who have been through college or have had a safe job to fall back on. It is even worse for a student who is undocumented because there are not as many open possibilities. In my experience in Denver Public Schools, my college counselor prioritized high-income students whose parents had already gone to college. Perhaps because it was easier to manage as their motto was, “100% college acceptance rate”. Students were forced to make decisions quickly enough before our graduation date, not allowing them to think through whether their school could offer them the proper resources or whether college was even for them. Having a successful future does not mean attending college as everyone has a different path in life. It’s important that college counselors take more time to prioritize students who need proper guidance and resources.
- Paola Gascot, alumna of Denver Public Schools
Dear State Board of Education members, I am calling on you to support students by investing federal stimulus dollars into hiring more mental health professionals and counselors in our schools. My name is Harper Lewis, and as a former Denver Public Schools student and current CCD student, I know the struggles many students are facing in overcoming challenges when doing schooling without adequate support staff being available. My schooling was made more difficult than it ever needed to be because I did not receive enough support from my counselor in my DPS education. This issue is often overlooked because it doesn’t obviously pertain to the traditional education process. This is very important given the detrimental impact of ignored mental health issues in today's youth. That is why I am calling on you as leaders to ensure that incoming funding goes to support increasing the number of mental health professionals and the number of counselors in schools.
- Harper Lewis, alumna of Denver Public Schools
Dear State Board of Education members, my name is Amelia Federico. I write to you today to ask you to support students by investing federal stimulus dollars into hiring more mental health professionals and counselors in our schools. As a lifelong DPS student I know all too well how pivotal mental health supports are in supporting students towards success. I have attending school with an ample amount of mental health support, and I had the experience to see first hand how beneficial and support they were to not only my success as a student but a healthy school environment for all students. On the other hand, I have attached schools where there was little to no mental health support. This prevented students from achieving their highest potential. During my academic career attending a school with little to no mental health supports impacted every aspect of school for me. I would come into class, not feeling supported and having no one to turn. This created an academic environment where I was not productive and started to fall behind. Falling behind then tricked into me not coming to school because I was so overwhelmed, and had no one to turn to. This reality is not specific to me, but is happening across DPS. Currently students are expected to preform their best while going through a global pandemic. Now students more than ever need to be supported in their academic environment to ensure students are on the right path to success. I know mental health supports can uplift students to not only be there best but do their best.
- Amelia Federico, alumna of Denver Public Schools