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Cool Schools: Denver school helps build an inclusive environment across the district

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Early College is changing how students learn about history in the classroom.

DENVER — A group of students at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Early College took it upon themselves to make a change they wanted to see.

Two years ago, students at the northeast Denver school pushed to change how classes are being taught in Denver Public Schools (DPS), advocating for a new Board of Education resolution titled "Know Justice, Know Peace Resolution."

The plan added old and new contributions of Black, Indigenous, and Latino communities to the K-12 curriculum throughout DPS.

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“There’s no reason why we should focus on Black history just during the month of February,” school principal Kimberly Grayson said. “It should be a year-long initiative and it should be taught in every single content area, and that’s exactly what my girls did.”

Credit: Byron Reed
MLK Early Learning principal Kimberly Grayson said "We really work to utilize student voice and make sure that we are following all the needs of every student."

The sixth through 12th grade school has been working to add more minority voices, views and history into K-12 classrooms in the district. The movement started with a trip to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington in 2019.

“It was there that the students decided that when we return back, they needed to put some things in action,” Grayson said.

Credit: Byron Reed
MLK Early College junior Dahni Austin prepares for the school's podcast called "Who's to Blame"

“Growing up, I was never able to have a social studies class that taught Black history,” student Dahni Austin said. “You would learn the main things like Rosa Parks, Malcolm X or Martin Luther King.”

Austin is a junior at MLK Early College and was one of the students who took the trip to D.C. with her principal. She said getting the resolution passed was something they needed to do.

“Our Black and brown students are actually feeling more empowered,” Austin said. “So you see a lot more kids paying more attention to their studies but also advocating for themselves and learning about themselves and just feeling some sense of self-worth.”

Credit: Byron Reed

Now, MLK Early College history teachers like Brendan Kelly adjust the way they teach their classes. The school said they are trying to build an inclusive environment district-wide.

Credit: Byron Reed
History teacher Brendan Kelly (l) said, "Yes, it is Black History Month, but we look at it as something that we’re doing every day of the year."

“When you look at a textbook or look at a reading, you have more of a surface-level understanding, and it takes the educator to do their own research,” Kelly said. “I’ve got to educate myself to better educate my students and give them a much more culturally responsive education where it’s not Eurocentric.”

“It’s like learning something new about yourself,” freshman Karina Lupian said. “It makes me feel excited that I’m going to be learning about my culture and other people’s cultures that I didn’t get to learn growing up.”

Credit: Byron Reed

Austin said even though the students' message has not been well received by everyone, seeing more students being uplifted is a proud accomplishment for the group.

“So that Black and brown students, and really just all students of color, could have some self or sense worth and really learn that their history is not just the history that they’re teaching us," she said. "There’s so much beyond the books."

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