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Southwest Denver Micro School fostering cultural pride with curriculum

La Luz Education launched in the fall of 2021 with a group of sixth grade Hispanic/Latino students. The school aims to prioritize social and emotional learning.

DENVER — Every school day looks different at the La Luz Micro School based in southwest Denver. While the day starts at the building located at Johnson-Habitat Park, some students describe it as a field trip every day. 

While still following the state's sixth grade curriculum standards learning happens out in the community. For example, learning about animals, biology, or even math happens at the Denver Zoo. History lessons will sometimes happen at History Colorado or other museums across Denver. 

The school is made up of 13 sixth graders from southwest Denver and all are Hispanic or Latino. The school's founder, Kyle Gamba, is a former Denver Public Schools principal who said the "the traditional middle school setup and curriculum is lacking so much of what this age group needs. I wanted to create something better, something that gave kids a safe and engaging learning experience outside of the classroom.”

The micro school model prioritizes the learning needs of each student by meeting them where they are academically, socially, and emotionally. 

Educators also want to incorporate cultural history and pride into the curriculum, which led them to Su Teatro one day in December. 

At the theater, students participated in warm up exercises, rehearsed lines, and performed scenes. Members of the Latino-based theater company and the students' educators, Jubitza Figueroa and Alfredo Cervantes, participated with the entire class. 

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"It’s so impactful for them to learn about the history of our Latino communities, what issues we face, how we can make our situation better, everything that led up to it and where we see ourselves," said Cervantes. 

Cervantes, who grew up in southwest Denver himself, said he recognizes the importance of fostering a sense of pride in your culture at an early age. Figueroa expressed similar sentiments.

"I do think that public, traditional schools kind of erase your culture over time," said Figueroa. "I know that happened to me and I don’t want that to happen to these students."

Figueroa is the school's educational counselor and focuses on bridging gaps between students' academic and personal lives.

"I feel like a typical school doesn’t pay attention to the way that life impacts students, so I really wanted to focus on that because ultimately, it definitely plays a role in their success as a whole," she said. 

Figueroa and Cervantes also make sure students are exposed to community members and leaders from diverse backgrounds who can share different lived experiences. Educators want students to be able to walk away knowing how to be an ally to different communities. 

Educators at La Luz want the students to be prepared to enter traditional high schools with a more holistic view of academics and social / emotional learning. 

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