Commentary

Letters to the Editor

Page 3 of 5

While all the "privileged" kids at Columbine were winning a state championship in football and getting all the attention and tears and millions of dollars, our East High students were filling a U-Haul truck full of non-perishable food, clothing, money and other items for a food bank and working on turning around their lives. Lives which have never even remotely entertained the privileges and opportunities afforded the students of Columbine. In fact, as one of our youth commented shortly after the tragedy, "Notice it wasn't the poor black kids who went off, but the well-to-do white kids?" Interesting observation, huh? But then, our youth live their own Columbine 365 days a year, and my youth's mom showed me the bullet hole in her arm as living proof of that. And while our students were participating in these activities, I assure you they weren't at home making bombs, sawing the barrels off of rifles or engaging in any other form of terroristic mischief. (But trust me: They don't have to look far to find it in the neighborhoods where they live.) They were working on turning around their lives!

People who don't like the language employed by these two wonderful programs are those who are stuck in their own little world and don't like to look outside their safety zone and the little box that they live in. That's great for them. They are entitled to live their life any way they choose. But don't diminish the effectiveness of a program simply because you don't like the fact that it doesn't jibe with your views. Some people need a new way of looking at themselves and their approach to life. The answer of the powers that be, including our new governor, is to have the youth take even more tests when they have already proven very adept at failing those they are currently taking in the first place! DOH! So which would you rather have your money go to? A program that teaches individuals how to overcome their past and the obstacles that they have to deal with on a daily basis and to reach for the brass ring, or one that simply provides more tests to fail (that is, if you can get the kids to school to take the tests in the first place!)?

The individuals involved with CYAR and the Landmark Forum are some of the finest people you will ever come across in Denver -- or the world, for that matter. Consider yourself lucky that there are programs and individuals such as them and myself who are out there taking the time to actually attempt to make a difference rather than be like those just sitting around enjoying the economic prosperity.

No, we aren't all Columbine! Some of us have it figured out, and we are working to make sure it doesn't happen again!
Brian Kennedy
via the Internet

Many thanks for Julie Jargon's piece on P.S.1. I have had friends who've gone through Landmark's program, and I've seen how they've changed -- and not for the better. These people were adults, too; I can't imagine what happens when teenagers become involved with a similar program. Why is the Denver Public Schools allowing this to happen?
Name withheld on request

All that Julie Jargon "unmasked" in her article was her own naiveté and Westword's desire to disparage a charter school during National Charter Schools Week. A more experienced reporter would not have built a story line on the quicksand of such an obvious personal vendetta and would have killed it when it became clear that none of the "concerns" held water.

Here's the scoop: All other things being equal, teenagers who are fearful, angry, suspicious, cynical, isolated, hopeless, emotionally inarticulate and powerless to change their condition do not learn as well as teenagers who feel effectual, can control their emotions, can trust others, are optimistic, know where their strengths lie and have the courage to manage and take responsibility for their emotions. Impotent victims, blamers, grudge-holders, haters, whiners, bullies, intransigents and hysterics not only don't learn much, but they undermine communities in which learning tends to flourish. Every good teacher and every good school knows these things and tries to orchestrate some kind of dance between the personal and the "academic," the emotional and the cognitive. There's no news here.

At P.S.1, we have always tried to attend to the needs of the whole student. We are as committed as ever to teaching them to read, write, reason, do math and make art. We continue to offer them history, science, literature, challenging real-world projects and interesting electives. We continue to offer them opportunities to learn at sites around the city of Denver and throughout the United States and Latin America. The Steps Ahead mentoring program represents no "new direction" at P.S.1. It is just the latest in a series of efforts to help students think clearly, communicate candidly and take some responsibility for their lives.

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