The Church Listens

Parents in northwest Denver say the Denver Public School District is neglecting its Hispanic students. But some people are looking out for them.

Four years ago, members of the congregation at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church on West 36th Avenue started discussing how they could address some of their community's needs--including a growing frustration with the quality of education for the neighborhood's Hispanic children. Father Tom Prag contacted people at Regis University and the Sisters of Loretto, who run St. Mary's Academy, a private Catholic school in Cherry Hills Village. Together they helped the community form a school modeled after the Nativity schools started in the early 1970s by Jesuit priests in New York. The schools--of which there are now thirty nationwide--are designed to provide a private education for low-income, minority students.

Escuela de Guadalupe will open this fall for kindergartners through second-graders. In later years, the school will offer all levels up to the eighth grade, with no more than twenty students per grade level. In addition to the small class sizes, the school will differ from public schools by operating an extra month, and the school day will go from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Though tuition will be approximately $3,100 a year, private donations will cover most of the children's costs. Donations have already brought in $800,000, but the school still needs another $500,000 for its first year of operation. The amount that parents will be required to pay will depend on their income.

"There is frustration locally and nationally because minority children aren't doing well in school," says Diana Flahive, the school's project director. "There are huge dropout rates--or, as I call them, 'push-out' rates."

Escuela de Guadalupe will offer a curriculum similar to the one followed in Denver Public Schools, but with a dual-language method: All subjects will be taught in both Spanish and English. Kids will receive religious instruction and encouragement to be active members in their community. The school founders are negotiating with the Archdiocese of Denver to lease St. Patrick School, a former Catholic school near Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Members of Padres Unidos and other parents in the area welcome the new school, saying it will provide much-needed relief for the crowded public schools in northwest Denver. "We're all looking at ways to serve our kids," says Flahive, who worked in DPS for twenty years as its executive director for community education. "It's good to have options, and the poor need options."

--Jargon

 
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