Take a moment to think back to when you were thirteen. Most likely, you’d rather not. After all, why voluntarily recall a time in your life that, even in the best of circumstances, was fraught with adolescent angst and tension? These were the years in which you saw your body mature, changing in ways no science class could truly prepare you for. These were the years in which defining your identity, finding your people, and understanding your place in both your own personal world and the wider world around you dominated your everyday existence.
Perhaps you were one of the lucky ones; while you experienced the normal “growing pains” associated with adolescence, you remained protected and well-cared for within the confines of the hearth and home. You never questioned the surety of your tomorrows, secure in the knowledge that all of your needs would be met, as well as a good many of your wants. Even more important, you never worried about fitting in, simply because you fit in wherever you went.
But what if you weren’t one of those lucky ones? What if, in addition to those typical adolescent anxieties, you also constantly find yourself dealing with challenges and responsibilities of real life? Perhaps you spend every night awake, worrying if your family is going to have enough money to pay the rent or buy groceries this week. Perhaps you are alone again, taking care of your siblings while your parents work multiple jobs in an excruciating effort to make your life better.
In these adolescent years, years that are supposed to be carefree and fun, you have learned to subjugate your own wants and needs in your family’s shared struggle to survive and thrive. Perhaps, in addition to these challenges, you also face the challenge of being an outsider in the society in which you live, cast as such because of the color of your skin or the language that you speak. Under these circumstances, finding a place where you can feel safe, a place where you belong, takes on heightened meaning.
For many “unlucky” students, their best, and sometimes only, chance at success lies in finding this place. These “unlucky” students are my students, and the safe place that they have found, a place where they find acceptance, love, belonging and a real chance at success, is at STRIVE-Prep Montbello Middle School.
I am an educator, but today I am something even more important. Today, I am the voice representing the over 200 exemplary young men and women and families in the STRIVE-Prep Montbello community. I am the voice of a supremely talented and dedicated group of teachers and administrators, each of whom is wholly committed to creating a safe, loving environment in which our students' academic and social-emotional needs are at the forefront. Together, we have worked to create a thriving community that emphasizes equity, security, happiness and success for each one of its members.
For many of our students, attending middle school at STRIVE-Prep on the Montbello campus is the one constant in their lives in which constants are few. Our students face insecurity, uncertainty and the judgment of outside society every day. STRIVE provides them with the consistency every adolescent needs, and a safe haven that prioritizes both their academic and their social-emotional health.
STRIVE is not just integral to the well-being of its students, it is also dedicated to improving the lives of the entire Montbello community. We provide basic essentials, ensuring that people have warm clothing and food when needed. And we help bring people together, as witnessed by the turnout of over 300 cars at the STRIVE pandemic-version, trunk-or-treat event. It is through efforts such as these that STRIVE has become an essential source of support for members of the Montbello community.
In my three decades as an educator, I have never been involved in a school community so fully invested in the well-being and success of its members as the one found at STRIVE-Prep Montbello. As Denver Public Schools embarks upon the decision-making process of Reimagining Montbello, I would implore those involved to understand and appreciate the truly essential role STRIVE plays in the lives of our families and in the Montbello community. Until now, it is as though our students, families and staff have been invisible to the Board of Education, caught up in a political debate about charter schools. STRIVE-Prep Montbello Middle School provides a warm, nurturing place for hundreds of adolescent students.
If we are to keep the promises we have made to them, promises to speak up for them, to fight for them and to make the world a more equitable place for them, then we must allow STRIVE-Prep Montbello to remain where it is, as the rightful place at the heart of the Montbello community.
Julie Keys is the eighth-grade English Language Arts Teacher, Gifted and Talented Coordinator, and Speech and Debate Club Leader at STRIVE Prep-Montbello, a charter public school in the heart of the Montbello community in Denver.
Westword publishes op-eds and essays on matters of interest to the Denver community on weekends; the opinions in them are those of the authors, not Westword. Have one you'd like to submit? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org, where you can also comment on this piece.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.