LAKEWOOD, Colo. — The start of the school year at Belmar School of Integrated Arts looked a little different this year, as the Lakewood elementary school took in about 120 new students from other Jefferson County schools that have closed their doors due to a decline in enrollment.
“We combined our boundary with the Glennon Heights Elementary community, and so a lot of those students are coming here,” said principal Meredith Leighty. “We’re also getting students from other schools that have closed.”
Last year, the Jeffco Public Schools Board of Education unanimously voted to close 16 elementary schools due to a decline in enrollment. Belmar School of Integrated Arts was among 15 schools to receive students from neighboring communities. The district's chief of schools, David Weiss, said he believes both students and staff will benefit from the combining of schools.
The increase in staff and students had Leighty and her staff busy planning over the summer. She said this first day back will be hectic, but they are ready.
“We work so hard to prepare over the summer,” she said. “I’m here, and the teachers arrive, but we spend weeks preparing for the day that the kids come, and the energy just shifts. It’s such a great day.”
It’s that same energy that Leighty puts into her other job, serving as mayor of Northglenn. It’s a position she’s held since being voted in on Nov. 5, 2019.
“I ran for council about six years ago, and it has really been an honor to serve my city too,” she said. “There’s obvious differences, but there are so many similarities, and I think it really does come from a heart of service.”
It’s a juggling act that Leighty said she is happy to do while planning for the students’ first day back.
The elementary school kicked off the new school year with a community engagement day where parents were invited to participate in dance, music and art. Leighty said it gives the parents an idea of what their students will experience throughout the year through a curriculum infused with the arts.
“It changes the experience for the students,” Leighty said. “It deepens their learning, and it provides access points that they never had before and its very inclusive.”
She said the character traits of both her positions are similar and are also helpful.
“So being compassionate, being empathetic, really listening,” she said. “I do that a lot with parents and students, and I do that a lot with residents, as well, because I want to hear what their concerns are so I can help.”
Leighty said she hopes her experiences in both positions will help her students feel welcome. She said it’s her way of giving back.
“I am proud to serve in this way, making sure that our students have a great experience, that my teachers feel cared for as professionals and that our community feels welcome,” she said. “That’s what I’m doing in both roles is really serving the community and bringing people together and being inclusive.”
For more information about Belmar School of Integrated Arts, visit belmar.jeffcopublicschools.org.
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