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Denver Green School-Northfield in enviable position of being too popular

Denver Green School-Northfield has a dilemma most schools would envy: It’s too popular.

With the first round of choice enrollment that ended late last month, 103 more rising sixth graders want to be DGS-N Goats next year than the school can handle.

By comparison, McAuliffe International, the area’s other main district middle school, had 391 apply for sixth grade and can take up to 510, said Principal Kurt Dennis. But he expects a full cohort of sixth graders in the fall with students who did not get their first school during the initial round of choice.

Parents and school leaders credit DGS-N’s expeditionary learning-type program and a caring culture for its great appeal in only its second year with all three grades – 6th to 8th. The school expects much of teachers and in return gives them the freedom to develop their own curriculums aligned with state standards.

Teachers apparently appreciate the freedom. One hundred percent of the faculty is returning next year, which is not the norm – retaining 70% to 80% of a staff is considered a good retention rate.

“It’s like a chef: best to make it yourself . . . engaging relevant lessons,” said Kartal Jaquette, lead partner, DGS-N’s equivalent of a principal. Erin Miller is also a lead partner and the two share leadership duties.

“We focus on student engagement and a safe, joyful culture,” Jaquette said. “And our teachers are committed to that.’’

Heidi Hamamoto, whose sixth grader, Annslee, started at a much larger middle school last fall where she did not feel noticed. A spot opened at DGS-N, located at 56th Avenue and Galena Street in North End, a month after school started and Mamamoto took it. DGS-N shares the building with Inspire Elementary.

“She’s been happier ever since,’’ Hamamoto said. “She feels more seen’’ in the school of 540 students.

Annslee also loves working in the school’s garden that is a prominent extra at DGS-N, caring for the school’s goats (only Denver school tending the animals that are the school’s mascot), the outdoor excursions that are fun learning experiences and the electives like cooking.

“She feels like she is in a safe environment,” her mom said. “Probably the best choice we’ve ever made.’’

She also noted that the school leaders are available and easy to talk to. “They’re paying attention.”

The Central Park school is the second Green School. The original one opened in 2010 in southeast Denver as an innovation school developed by teachers from Denver Public Schools. The schools use project-based and experiential learning which, as Jaquette noted, allows students to engage in relevant and self-directed learning facilitated by teachers.

This Monday (3/20) is an example. Students were to watch one of three movies at the local Harkins Theaters: Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, Antman and Wasp: Quantumania or Top Gun: Maverick. Not just for fun.

First, they had to learn about and practice writing critiques then return to class after the showing to write their reviews. They also do student-led parent/teacher conferences that Hamamoto finds beneficial for everyone.

Other hands-on, applied learning projects include a class reading a book on dystopia, then discussing what makes a healthy, thriving society and applying those lessons to their redesign of the closed Park Hill Golf Course.

Other students have done a business plan for a new store in the Stanley, interviewing business owners and researching business practices. There is also a weekly student news show and a place to record it. A “student of the week’’ is chosen for demonstrating the school’s core values.

“We’re hyper focused on positive storytelling,’’Jaquette said. “It’s a safe school to participate. They can be comfortable to try and maybe fail.”

Following the disruption of the recent pandemic, achievement has been steady with 72% of students at or above grade level in reading and 56% in math, according to results of the 2022 Colorado Measures of Academic Success or CMAS.

“We look for growth, not just scores,’’ Jaquette said.

Hamamoto believes she and her daughter have found what they were looking for.

“In DPS, it’s kind of a unicorn,’’ she said.


(Editor’s note: The Foundation for Sustainable Urban Communities produces The foundation has awarded grants to Denver Green School-Northfield for outdoor and indoor hydroponic gardens and may do so in the future.)  





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