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DENVER (ED NEWS COLORADO) - Students in the Denver Public Schools, where enrollment is expected to grow about 5 percent over last year, trooped back to school Monday, some of them to nine new schools.

Denver students brought up the rear of the back-to-school parade, given that most Colorado pupils are already hard at it. Some students - like many in Douglas County and Cherry Creek- went back to class as early as Aug. 12. Several other large districts, including Adams 12-Five Star and Jefferson County, launched the school year last week.

Students in Denver's Far Northeast area got a head start when they returned to school Aug. 8. But for most of the more than 86,000 students expected to study in Denver this year, Monday was it. Denver's enrollment has been growing steadily in recent years, reflecting the city's overall growth and the expansion of family-oriented new developments like Stapleton and Lowry. Official enrollment counts will be taken in early October and reported in December.

The day started with celebration at southwest Denver's Gust Elementary, where a crowd of more than 700 students, teachers and parents kicked off with breakfast, balloons, pep talks and an appearance by cheerleaders from nearby Kennedy High School.

By mid-afternoon the halls were quiet and the classrooms were all business. In Angie Bonato's fourth-grade class students were clustered on the floor in front of a smart board preparing for a drawing exercise.

Students at Gust, 3440 W. Yale Ave., returned to a somewhat stuffy building, as did students in the city's many older, non-air conditioned schools. There was a low hum of fans in every classroom, but they seemed to be making only a small difference in the warm air. Mid-afternoon temperatures were in the low 90s outside, and Gust Principal Jamie Roybal said she was dreading the hotter temperatures forecast for the rest of the week.

Roybal presides over a bustling school. The PRE-5 school has gained 295 students in the last six years, and Roybal is expecting enrollment of 745 this year. But that growth comes at a cost - one class meets in the cafeteria, another on the auditorium stage and the computer lab had to be converted into a classroom. Roybal credits a strong preschool program for much of the growth.

Nine new schools open

Elsewhere around the city, students began school in brand-new programs.

The first students started Monday at the new Downtown Denver Expeditionary School, the business district's first school in decades. However, the school had to open in temporary quarters at 4250 Shoshone St., a couple of miles north of downtown.

Eventually the school will share a former office building with DPS offices and the Emily Griffith Opportunity School at 1860 Lincoln St. The building is in the middle of renovation. The school opened with grades K-2.

Other new DPS schools that opened Monday include:

  • Academy 360 - The K-1 charter at 12505 Elmendorf Place is focused on health and wellness and will use a project-based expeditionary curriculum.
  • DCIS at Fairmont - This innovation school at 520 W. 3rd Ave. will serve as the elementary campus for the nearby Denver Center for International Studies.
  • Isabella Bird Community School - A K-1 school this year, it opened in a temporary location in Far Northeast (11200 E. 45th Ave.). It will move into the growing Stapleton neighborhood next school year and eventually serve grades PRE-5.
  • Denver Montessori Junior/Senior High School - Opening with grades 6-7, this innovation school is planned to expand to grade 12 and is located at 2949 California St.
  • DSST Byers - This expansion of the DSST charter school network opened with grade 6 in a church at 200 S. University Blvd. but will eventually expand to grades 6-12 in the renovated Byers Junior High at 120 S. Pearl St.
  • Excel Academy-Denver - Run by the Camelot Schools management organization, this 9-12 school at 3201 W. Arizona Ave. specializes in "second-chance" learners.
  • STRIVE Prep - Opening with 9th graders, this high school at 2960 N. Speer Blvd. is part of STRIVE Preparatory Schools charter group and focuses on a rigorous college prep program.
  • Compassion Road Academy - This 9-12 innovation school opened with 9th graders at 100 Cherokee St. and focuses on at-risk students.

Denver has had an aggressive program in recent years of opening charter, magnet, innovation and other kinds of specialized schools. Innovation schools are run by the district but are exempt from some state regulations and union contract provisions. (See full list of DPS here.)

High tech cards for bus riders

The 26,000 DPS students who ride buses had a novel first-day-of-school experience thanks to a card-reader system that tracks them as they board and exit buses. Students place their +Pass cards in front of a reader as they enter and exit buses. The time, date and location of where students get on and off are recorded to an electronic database, accessible only by transportation and school officials, and - next semester - by parents. (Get information here.)

Some kids get lucky

Students at McGlone Elementary, 4500 Crown Blvd., caught a break on the first day of school because the building was closed due to an overnight water pipe break. Preschool and kindergarten students will go to school Tuesday, but the building will remain closed for grades 1-5.

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