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Storytellers: Improving grades in a different way

Jefferson Junior/Senior High School provides various resources to students to help them succeed.

EDGEWATER, Colo. — From the halls of her past, Rhiannon Wenning remembers her days as a student at Jefferson High School.

She knows that students today have a very different experience from her time at at the school.

"You can't be a successful student if your belly is empty and if you were worried about where you were going to sleep at night," Wenning said.

RELATED: Watch full episodes, extras of The Jefferson Project

Most of the kids at Jefferson Junior/Senior High come from poor families. Most are Latino. Jefferson now receives help under a new Community School program where students also receive support services coordinated by Wenning.

"This is our fish bone diagram of looking at one of our problems, which is why students are chronically absent or tardy to school," Wenning said. "No job. RTD is late. Family doesn't have a car."

She tries to find solutions to problems -- no matter the reason.

"We see that attendance has a direct, direct correlation to how well they're doing in school, if they're understanding content and if they're able to keep up on their grades," Wenning said.

Oftentimes, Wenning said, the answer is the simplest one -- like providing meals and basic necessities to kids who need it. She believes this is their key to succeeding in school.

"My ultimate goal is to have them walk across the stage at graduation," Wenning said.

From the halls of her past to the hall of the State Capitol, Wenning doesn't just fight for Jefferson. She's talking to legislators to push for a statewide expansion of the Community Schools program.

"It's frustrating when you're testifying. You've said it 15 different ways and still it's in one ear and out the other," Wenning said.

Despite those frustrations, Wenning's hope is becoming the school's reality. She said the numbers show that giving students a little help as a whole is working.

"Whenever I see boys' groups come in here and I see the data that because they're in these groups, because they're getting the social-emotional supports, their grades are better. Their attendance is better," Wenning said. "That's when I know, I'm making a difference."

She hopes this difference equals a better future for Jefferson.

"This community is my community. I come from this community and I received so much from growing up here that I've made it my mission in life to give back everything that I received when I was here," Wenning said.

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