Community effort makes schools ‘the best they can be’

Arvada IAF chapter encourages families to enroll in neighborhood schools

Posted 7/19/19

It was a Saturday, and Peck Elementary Principal Deborah Pearce was knocking on one door after another alongside dozens of Arvada residents, with the goal of learning more about the community. …

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Community effort makes schools ‘the best they can be’

Arvada IAF chapter encourages families to enroll in neighborhood schools

Posted

It was a Saturday, and Peck Elementary Principal Deborah Pearce was knocking on one door after another alongside dozens of Arvada residents, with the goal of learning more about the community. Specifically, the group asked parents for their opinions on the city and on area schools.

But of all the answers given that day in March 2018, for Pearce, the most surprising was parents’ opinions on Peck Elementary School: Many said they believed it was closing.

“The school board was talking about some potential school closures, and Peck was on that list,” Pearce said.

However, the board ultimately decided not to close the school, having heard from the school’s PTA and other community members at board meetings.

“We could reassure people that the school is staying and honored to be part of the community,” she said.

Addressing this rumor was just the beginning. A year later, the group is still working to bring the community together and has established itself as a chapter of the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF). The IAF is a national community organizing network, primarily made up of local organizations and religious groups.

Arvada’s IAF chapter consists of a number of schools, churches and community members, some of whom became involved after meeting members during that March walk. The group held another walk in the neighborhood near Thomson Elementary, as well, and has since hosted several meetings to determine its next steps. Members have focused on encouraging even more involvement throughout the city.

“The only way society really changes is when people get involved,” said chapter member John Anderson, pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church at 7755 Vance Drive. With several others, Anderson led the charge to establish an IAF chapter in Arvada, hoping to change “a lack of connection among families in neighborhood schools,” he said.

“You don’t have anybody to turn to, to take your children to school if you’re sick,” he said. “Community would be beneficial for the kids.”

For Arvada resident Candy Frie, who has been involved with IAF walks and meetings, the chapter represents one of the largest efforts to build parent and school relationships that she has ever seen in the city.

“To this extent, I would say it’s new to Arvada,” she said. “We’re really helping the schools be the best they can be. That’s how you build community togetherness and pride.”

Shannon Fitzgerald, the district’s enrollment services director, agreed, saying that neighborhood schools provide a number of community and transportation benefits. More than 70% of district students attend their neighborhood school, while for other families, attending a choice enrollment school serves as the better option, she said.

“The family might be looking for different types of programs or the school is closer to their after-school childcare or work,” she said. “We always encourage families to go into a school and get a feel for it.”

Families can also use the district’s School Finder tool to search schools near the address and get more information about the school, including information on demographics, programming and upcoming events.

To access the tool, visitors can log on to the EnrollJeffco site at www.jeffcopublicschools.org/schools/enrollment/enrolljeffco and click on the School Finder button at the bottom of the page.

Families near Peck Elementary will have their chance to learn more at the school’s upcoming playdate. The event, held at the school on Aug. 3, invites students and parents to the Peck playground to enjoy snacks and activities.

Pearce hopes the event will highlight what makes the school stand out, including its partnerships with Arvada High School and Olde Town and the fact that 14 of its staff members are certified in the Orton-Gillingham learning approach. The approach is known for promoting literacy, especially in students with dyslexia.

“There’s always a lot going on,” she said, “and we’re always accepting new students and happy to have them.”

As the project continues, the IAF will find additional ways to promote neighborhood schools while keeping an eye out for other potential projects.

“What we’re doing is a small example of what goes on in IAF,” Anderson said. “It all starts with bringing the community together and empowering people to address need.”

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