When long-term substitute teacher Edith Glapion shared a letter with her English language learners from the district’s superintendent about possible changes at Aurora Central High School, her students had a lot of questions and even more concerns.
So she encouraged her students to put their thoughts and feelings into letters addressed to the State Board of Education.
The state board is expected on Wednesday to sign off on a plan that would allow Aurora Public Schools to create what is known as an innovation zone. The zone would consist of a group of schools — including Aurora Central — that would be freed from a variety of district and state policies governing budget, curriculum, and hiring, among other things.
Aurora Superintendent Rico Munn said he believes if Aurora Central and other schools in the proposed zone have more freedom to make decisions at the building level student achievement will improve. Aurora Central, along with 17 other schools in the suburb east of Denver, are on Colorado’s accountability watch list for poor academic performance.
Editor’s note: In an effort to demonstrate her students’ range of English-language skills, teacher Edith Glapion did not edit their letters to the State Board of Education. Chalkbeat has lightly edited some of the excerpts for clarity.Under state law, schools on the watch list that don’t improve within five years face state sanctions, including possible closure. Munn has championed innovation status as a possible solution for months. The city’s school board gave Munn the OK to pursue innovation plans last week.
The students’ letters, which Glapion dropped off at the Colorado Department of Education, offer the state board an unfiltered view of what it’s like to be one of Aurora Central’s neediest students: a refugee living in poverty with limited English skills.
“I needed their voices to be heard,” she said.
Some of the letters mention the school’s “smelly” bathrooms and students who ditch too often.
A few suggest the school be closed.
“Dear members of the department of education,” wrote Marvin Gomez Rochin Augusto. “I just want to say you should shut this school down because this school is dirty and nasty. the reason that i say that is because some student’s talk dirty and they need help and fast.”
(Aurora school officials have stressed that closing Aurora Central is the last option.)
But most advocate keeping the school open.
“I know we had some problem in school but if we guys would make some more rules then our school will be in control,” Kiran Adhikadi wrote. “I hope you understand our problem and also I hope yogis put a vote in the favor of keeping Aurora Central High School open thanks.”
A second motive for the letters, Glapion said, was that she wanted the state board to see the range of her student’s writing skills. Many of her students, she said, have only been studying English for a few months.
You can read all 34 letters below, but here are eight paragraphs, with light editing by Chalkbeat, that grabbed our attention:
In her letter, Debra Muhigirwa said Aurora Central has helped her learn to be responsible:
“I am from Congo, raised in Uganda. Came to Colorado in 2012. I have [experienced] alot, for example school, food, people, friends, rules, and so many others stuff, but through all ACHS have taught me alot, how to be a responsible girl, how to be strong and never give up … i am asking you guys to vote a favor to leave ACHS OPEN.”
Biak Tha Cung said Aurora Central will get worse before it gets better. But she has hope the school will improve; that’s why she continues to go there:
“One day I hope bad students will change into good students because all the teachers are trying their best to change their bad attitude. There are a lot of schools but I chose this school because I know one day this school will be well-known and great school. Though our school is going down currently. The people from this school are working hard and trying their best to improve for this school. I assure their hard working will not be in vain.”
Aantony Abinash said to improve Aurora Central, students need more time during the school day:
“Instead of closing this school you can increase the school days like a half day school in Saturday that would be useful to others who doesn’t have enough credit to graduate. Please don’t close this school and destroy all of our ambition, our dream, our friends, and our great relationship with others.”
DarReh MaTTIa suggested Aurora Central should be shut down but reopened:
“What I’ve seen the most is students ditches every day. Some stay in class doesn’t pay attention … I don’t know why they bother coming to school without learning. Students on their phone every day when teaching. I THINK we should close the school open it back in a year or two with these same teacher but different rules.”
Amrit Niroula said to Aurora Central is a home to many homeless students:
“If you close this school hundred and hundred student will have nowhere to go. Many people are homeless and they want move on and have better life. If you close this school many students will have no future and they may be living poverty or become homeless.”
Eh Paw Htoo Htoo Wah suggested uniforms for students and engaging lessons would make Aurora Central a better place to learn:
“For my opinion to make this school to be better, you should make uniform for this school. If you make uniform for central, and when [visitor] comes they will think that this school is so organizes. For teachers when they teach US History they should do something fun not to boring like it is now.”
Benjamain Kinkaku said he fears if the school closes many students will just stop going to school instead of transferring to another:
“Another reason that you shouldn’t close the school most of the students will drop out of school. This school is close and students dislike going to fa school. Some students won’t have transportation to get to school.”
Jose Morales said the school should be closed because he believes some teachers just don’t care:
“… there are teachers that they don’t care if you learned or if you do your work and they don’t even pay attention to you. some other teachers they don’t even teach what they need to teak you they just talk all period.”
An APS spokeswoman said the district was unaware the letters were given to the state board. But she said officials were looking forward to reading the letters.