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New Westminster High opens with controversial new teaching approach

A north-metro-area school district hopes a gleaming — but controversial — new high school with a different approach to teaching will help bring it out of the academic doldrums.

Adams County School District 50 opens the doors to Westminster High School on Aug. 30, drawing students from the now-closed Ranum High and the old Westminster High. The original Westy was razed to make way for the new high school. Ranum was converted into a middle school.

Once inside, students will head off to one of five career academies of their choosing. The academies will include smaller classes and more one- on-one instruction.

“The teachers, by being with the students more, will be able to say, ‘I really know you well, and I know you can do better,’ ” Principal Pat Sanchez said.

The academies — health and biomedical; architecture, construction and engineering; global business; visual and performing arts; and liberal arts, humanities and education — also will emphasize more real-world problem-solving.

Colorado schools get $43 million in grants

Struggling Colorado schools will receive about $43 million in federal turnaround grants over three years.

Nineteen schools in six districts — Denver, Pueblo City, Mesa County District 51, Sheridan, Adams 14 and Center Consolidated School District 26JT — will receive the money, according to the Colorado Department of Education.

The grants are part of the Obama administration’s three-year, $3.5 billion initiative to improve or close 5,000 chronically low-performing schools.

Closing schools is the most politically volatile choice among the four interventions acceptable with the turnaround money.

The other options include replacing the leadership and staff, restarting the school with a charter school and “transforming” the school.

The last option is the most popular.

Mama Drama: Friendship Frustrations

Dear Mama Drama:

I have two sons who are very outgoing, but very unique. Both struggle with making lasting friendships at school and say that others seem to avoid them. They often blast in instead of joining into groups or repeat annoying behavior when they have been asked to stop. My oldest son does gross and obnoxious things and my youngest is always showing off in attempts to get attention. When they complain about how they are treated at school they seem to have no idea how their behavior is impacting others. I’m at a loss.

~ Concerned Mama

Next Stop: Kindergarten (and how to enjoy the ride)

Is it just me, or does anyone else hate buying back-to-school items?  I’ve tried to get a little here and there, taking my 12-page list each time I head out to Target.  We may have to look into donating our plasma (blood, not TV) this month in order to make ends meet in order to get all the “must haves” on our list.

School supplies aren’t the only reason I’m in a bad mood about school starting.  First of all, after a few months of “chillin’ with my crew” I have to start studying again.  This fall I’m taking a nutrition class, and I’m pretty sure they’re gonna get all up in my grill about how bad Little Debbie snack cakes are for the kids.   Secondly, when the kids go back to school, it means winter is on her angry way, and displaying my cute feet will once again will have to take a back seat to staying warm.  Thirdly, when my three children walk out the front door this year on their first day, my whole identity will forever be changed.

I’m about to transition from “mother of young children” to “mother of school-aged children.”  I think my new title sounds so stupid and I hate it.  It’s not that I want to go back to diapers and sleepless nights, but having three kids in school just seems so permanent and lonely. Sending

How will you be celebrating back-to-school “Me” day?

It may come as a shock to anyone who knows me but I really, really like to be alone.

I also like to socialize, as my third grade teacher divulged on my report card when she said I had “verbal diarrhea.”

Though I truly love exploring with my children, the toughest adjustment to motherhood for me was lack of alone time. When I was single, I frequently traveled, hiked, biked and played by myself. Since having kids, alone time is practically non-existent, especially during the summer.

Today marks the beginning of what I call freedom.

Others call it back-to-school.

For three glorious hours a day, four days a week, I will have a sliver of time to work, play and recharge before delving into our wonderfully frenzied life all over again.

A few weeks ago, my children and I traveled in a snazzy (and sadly, loaner) Lincoln MKT to Utah to visit beloved Grandma and Grandpa who unceremoniously abandoned us to move to Utah.

Truly, I have gotten over my bitterness.

Over the course of 10 days, we

School is Denver’s first to offer contraceptives in fight against teen births

Condoms, birth-control pills and emergency contraception are available to any Bruce Randolph School student whose parent has signed them up for services at the school-based clinic operated by Denver Health.

The northeast Denver school for sixth- through 12th-graders is the first in the city to provide students with contraceptives, although a task force in 2007 recommended that clinics at six DPS high schools dispense birth control as a way to cut the teen pregnancy rate.

That year, Denver’s teen birth rate was almost double the state rate, with 41.5 out of every 1,000 girls between ages 15 and 17 having babies, compared with 22.1 per 1,000 in Colorado. Denver’s teen fertility rate dropped to 30.8 in 2009, but it still far outpaces the state rate of 19.7, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Nationwide, the birth rate for 15- to 17-year-olds was 22 per 1,000 in 2006, according to the most recent data available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Latina girls in Denver were nearly 3.5 times as likely

Back-to-school tips to alleviate stress for mom

Attention all Moms!!

Back to school is right around the corner and with that comes some anxiety and stress. Our children have been on a carefree and relaxing schedule and all of that is about to change. Some other kids are starting new schools and may be a bit nervous. Now is the perfect time to implement small changes and create an environment that gets everyone excited and prepared to start the school year.

Watch a short video that will offer some simple and practical advice to help make the transition easier for everyone in the family.

Leslie Gail is a Lifestyle expert, author of the book Life Simplified-A weekly guide to creating a life you love and Mom TV web show host. On her weekly show she offers simple and practical advice to create more balance, wellness and joy. She lives in Denver with her husband and two children. You can learn more about Leslie at

Colorado schools taste change in student meals

One day in April, Durango students sat down to a lunch that included Tuscan blend vegetables, a choice of fresh fruit and a salad bar.

For parents who remember school veggies as limp green or orange wads floating in watery brine and smelling of tin cans and steam trays, Durango’s fancy local produce and grass-fed beef might seem nothing short of revolutionary.

The day might be coming, though, when that menu is the norm.

More and more adults, swept along in the organic, buy-local tide, are turning gripes into action and crafting changes to make school food healthier and — dare we say it — even tasty.

Improvements can’t come soon enough for children whose doctors are now advised to check them for high cholesterol and blood pressure before they’re old enough to write.

But change won’t come easily, either.

The school food program, which includes breakfasts, after-school snacks and summer meals as well as lunch, is a more than $11 billion-a-year federal program to put macaroni and cheese and milk in the hands of 30 million kids a day. Getting food from producers to schools requires a vast, and entrenched, infrastructure of government agencies and food-industry giants.

That might explain why, as Congress slogs through a debate over substantial changes to the Child Nutrition Act, many are betting that real improvement will come from the ground up, through

The Kindergarten Dilemma–To Enroll or to Hold Back?

With summer break on the horizon next week, I can almost say I survived my daughter’s first year of kindergarten.

And am fretting about my son’s entrance into it.

Why would I do such a thing when he is only 3? The reason is simple: I already feel pressured to make major decisions on his behalf. When he was born in July of 2006, I figured he was well within the range for the mid-September cut-off for when he could attend school. I enrolled him in our local preschool last September and he has loved it. He has learned all the sounds of the alphabet and is at the top of his class of 3 to 5-year-olds in math.

It’s a good thing, too because I am counting on him doing our taxes in a few years.

He still has one year left of preschool and then I planned to enroll him in kindergarten the following year. Until the peer pressure began.

“Do you really want him to be the youngest in his class?”
“He will be at a huge disadvantage if you don’t hold him back.”
“I held my child back and have never regretted it for an instant.”

At first, I was puzzled. Why would I hold him back when he is

Habla Teenagerese?

My oldest daughter doesn’t want to take Spanish next year.

I want her to take Spanish next year. It’s an elective only offered to eighth graders, it’s free, it’s available. To my mommy mind, it makes sense.

I explained the benefits of having a full year of Spanish completed before high school. She’ll be a year ahead. Spanish is the wisest language to learn in today’s world and especially in our part of the country.

These arguments failed to convince her, so I trotted out a seemingly innocuous observation about her friends. They are probably taking Spanish, right? I felt terrible hijacking peer pressure this way. Normally, I decry peer pressure but when it’s time to sign up for next year’s electives? Shame-less.

She claimed no, they aren’t. They all decided to take sculpture.

I pictured a lonely, dejected Spanish teacher and an incredibly overwhelmed art teacher saying mon dieu!

So rather than learning an important, marketable, socially-conscious life skill, you want to make vases and clay animals? I asked.


Big sighs from me. I flipped through the packet of classes and noted she had to choose by the next day. Tomorrow. Always too soon, so soon, and how did this happen? Weren’t you just born?

How did we get to this point where a Spanish vs. Clay Elephants debate is just a part of a weekday morning?

I could have insisted she take Spanish much like I insist she eat breakfast every day or complete her chores. You will! You will! I am the mother.

I didn’t. I decided to let this one go. There is time. She is far more interested in taking Chinese beginning in ninth grade. During two enrichment courses in previous years, she chose Chinese and learned some basics. She loved it.

Larger battles loom. There will be times when I will exercise my authority and absolutely insist on certain behaviors and decisions in the coming years. But I want her to know I can maintain perspective.

I want her to know I see her side.

I want her to know there will always be room on our shelves for hand-made clay figurines.