DPS hopes to boost grad rate by expanding high school sports with help of $3 million donation

In an effort to boost its lower-than-they'd-like graduation rate, Denver Public Schools plan to invest $4.8 million -- plus $3 million more from secret donors -- over the next three years to expand access to high school sports by letting low-income kids play for just $10, instead of the usual $60-per-sport fee.

The idea behind the plan, which also includes summertime ACT prep classes, is simple: Kids who are involved in extracurricular activities are more likely to show up to school.

"We hope if we can get more students involved, we have a greater chance of really improving the graduation rate," says Kelli Pfaff, the district's student success coordinator.

The goal is to have 90 percent of freshman participate next year in at least one activity. Current estimates show a 40 to 50 percent participation rate, with 35 percent of students playing a sport.

The money will also pay for:

  • Hiring ten more athletic directors to coordinate programs and boost participation. According to Pfaff, the district currently has only one full-time athletic director for the entire city, whereas many high schools in neighboring towns have one at every school. "Having one full-time person (at each school) in an assistant principal position where this is their sole purpose will have a much bigger impact," Pfaff says.
  • Hiring additional sports coaches who will also point athletes in the direction of academic support and tutoring, if needed.
  • Buying new athletic uniforms and equipment. Currently, only varsity teams regularly get new uniforms, Pfaff says. She hopes the grant will change that. "We want all of our teams to be clean and unified," she says. "We know what that does for school pride."

And DPS could use some. Last year, district statistics show that only 52.7 percent of DPS students graduated. Gimme a G! Gimme an R! Gimme an A! You get the point.

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Melanie Asmar is a staff writer for Westword. She joined the paper in 2009 and has won awards for her stories about education, immigration and epic legal battles. Got a tip? She'd love to hear it.
Contact: Melanie Asmar