DENVER — Denver Public Schools was recently awarded two major grants to promote civic engagement.
The Hewlett Foundation and Jobs for the Future is over the next three years giving $1.4 million to the Student Voice and Leadership program. The money is being used for expansion, programming and personnel.
Solicia Lopez leads the Student Voice and Leadership (SVL) program. She’s had that position for about 6 years and said this grant is a huge milestone.
She’s a fourth-generation Denverite and DPS alumna. She grew up knowing the importance of civic engagement.
“My passion comes from my story of being a young teenage mom in the system and realizing at a very young age that I didn’t have a voice,” she said. “My journey has led me to the importance of young people taking action and speaking up and understating their identity and how that is a position of power.”
She comes from the school of thought that young people have a lot to offer and deserve a spot at the table making decisions for their education.
The two programs under the SVL umbrella are Student Board of Education (SBOE) and Young African American Latinx Leaders (YAALL).
SBOE is a school-based program with students who identify a social justice inequity in their school community and address it through policy. YAALL is a district-based program that aims to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline through policy.
Both programs will benefit from the grant.
Lopez said the grant money will go to the same pot that funds all leadership programs in the district.
It will not be distributed by school or area, rather to schools who have leadership groups.
Funds will go to all students and teachers, who will be trained equally.
Right now, the SVL network has about 22 high schools out of about 60 in the district. Their goal is to add 10 schools a year for the three years of the grant.
Jocelyne Arguelles is a senior at Denver Center for International Studies. She’s one of the student leaders spearheading the program. Arguelles said this process has changed the way she thinks about herself and her role in the world.
She’s from Mexico and came to the United States when she was a 1-year-old.
“My whole life I thought ‘immigrant’ was a bad word,” she explained.
She was empowered by other people who fought for what they believed was right and became politically active. She said one of the most important issues for her is implicit bias in schools. As a part of her leadership program at DCIS, Arguelles researched to see if teachers had implicit bias.
“We told [our teachers] about our personal experiences, and that seemed to change the relationship we had with our teachers,” she said. “I don’t think a lot of times teachers recognize we have things going on in our lives.”
From working to taking care of siblings, some of the students have had to grow up a lot sooner, she said.
“I think that’s changed the culture of the school -- teachers have begun to be more empathetic towards students and more understanding.”
Arguelles said she’s also passionate about young men of color feeling included and supported in schools.