October 14, 2013 Updated: October 14, 2013 at 7:13 am
Cassandra Padilla lives in a neighborhood where she sees children outside playing at 9 p.m. on school nights.
A mother of three, she helps her two school-age children with homework, reads to them and tucks them in bed by 8 p.m. They have perfect attendance.
"My motto is the school does 50 percent and I do 50 percent," she says.
She carries that into the school where she helps as part of Harrison School District 2's VIP (Very important Parents) program.
Last spring she was told one of her children had to go to summer school. "I knew she was having trouble. I was so glad the teachers cared about her."
Now her daughter is racing through math. The girls had preschool and all-day kindergarten, too. Their elementary school emphasizes addressing the whole child, so the students receive backpacks of food for the weekends and eat breakfast and lunch at school. Padilla, who dropped out of school at age 16, is impressed and thankful for the support she didn't get when she was a student.
Stratmoor Hills is one of five D-2 Schools of Promise. Superintendent Andre Spencer singled the schools out for an extra 90 minutes of math tutoring after school because the students were underperforming on state assessment tests. At the end of the long days, kids get free dinner.
The school is reaping the rewards of many district initiatives that were set in place before the state mandated them. Stratmoor substantially narrowed the academic growth gap in the 2012-2013 school year for students who are minorities, English language learners, from households that qualify for reduced or free lunches or have disabilities. In 2012, 33 percent of those students had adequate growth, as measured by the Colorado Department of Education. In 2013, 80.6 percent of those students had adequate growth, said district spokeswoman Christine Lyle.
Success starts with teachers spending many hours after school each week collaborating and solving classroom struggles, says teacher Jamie Pflaumer. "Our students need great teachers. Some other schools might not need it, the kids come with what they need. Our kids don't, and they deserve that. It's worth our hard work to see their growth."
Every student at the school has 21/2 hours of reading instruction daily.
In after-school tutoring, teachers preview the next day's lessons. "It gives those struggling the opportunity to be successful because they studied it ahead of time," Pflaumer says.
Getting the students believing in their dreams is a big part of the battle, says Principal Pamela Robinson. The school emphasizes "I will be," rather than "I want to be."
Students are encouraged to write in journals to de-stress. Each student has a teacher, not in their grade, who mentors them, sends them cards or gives them treats when they succeed, and who is there when they need someone to talk to.
There are "Future Me" drawings in the halls. Everyone wants their name on the paper socks taped to a hall wall for the Knock Your Socks Off contest. Academic improvement is awarded with real pairs of wildly colored or patterned socks.
There are social skills groups, and the learning continues in the classroom. When children correct their own bad behavior, everyone in unison says: "You transformed your behavior."
Pflaumer says: "When praise come from the kids it means more."
Robinson has been at the school for 17 years, 10 as principal. Crime in the area has decreased, she says, but poverty has increased. With poverty comes mobility issues. Last year the school took in 89 students, and 92 withdrew. It averages only 10 kids a year who have spent all grades there.
Robinson is no longer just the business manager of the school. "We have to be instructional leaders. I'm learning as much as the teachers, to guide and coach."
It's paying off.
One of her teachers was reading the book "Teaching with Poverty in Mind."
She says, "Now we are all reading and discussing it after school."