Mapping Colorado’s Alternative Schools

February 28, 2011 Leave a comment

There are 47 alternative schools in Colorado. Here’s what they look like on a MAP [missing two schools].


Categories: Data

Defining Alternative Education in Colorado

February 28, 2011 Leave a comment

There are 47 alternative schools in Colorado …

What is the future of alternative education? And, what is the future of education in general? Is all public education destined to become alternative? 

Economically Disadvantaged: Students in schools determined to be eligible to participate in the Free Lunch Program under the National School Lunch Act[1]


Graduation Rate:

State Dropout Rate: Calculated using the annual event school dropout rate for students leaving a school in a single year determined in accordance with NCES CCD guidelines.

Migrant: A student may be considered to be a migrant student if either the parent or guardian, or the child or child’s spouse, have been employed within the past three years (or are any of the aforementioned currently employed) in some form of temporary or seasonal agricultural or agricultural-related work such as: planting or harvesting crops (vegetables, fruit, cotton, etc.), transporting farm products to market, feeding or processing poultry, beef, or hogs, gathering eggs or working in hatcheries, working on a dairy farm or a catfish farm, or cutting firewood or logs to sell. [2]


–          Students who have Individualized Education Programs (IEPs)
–          Students who have been committed to the Department of Human Services following adjudication as juvenile delinquents or who are in detention awaiting disposition of charges that may result in commitment to the Department of Human Services
–          Students who have dropped out of school or who have not been continuously enrolled and regularly attending any school for at least one semester prior to enrolling in this school
–          Students who have been expelled from school or who have engaged in behavior that would justify expulsion
–          Students who have documented histories of personal drug or alcohol use or who have parents or guardians with documented dependencies on drugs or alcohol
–          Students who have documented histories of personal street gang involvement or who have immediate family members with documented histories of street gang involvement
–          Students who have documented histories of child abuse or neglect
–          Students who have parents or guardians in prison or on parole or probation
–          Students who have documented histories of domestic violence in the immediate family
–          Students who have documented histories of repeated school suspensions
–          Students under the age of twenty years who are parents or pregnant women
–          Students who are migrant
–          Students who are homeless


–          Students who have a documented history of a serious psychiatric or behavioral disorder, including but not limited to an eating disorder, suicidal behaviors or deliberate, self-inflicted injury[3]



Homeless: Individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence…; and

B. includes —children and youths who are sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing,economic hardship, or similar reason; are living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camping grounds due to the lack of alternative accommodations; are living in emergency or transitional shelters; are abandoned in hospitals; or are awaiting foster care placement;

ii. children and youths who have a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings…

iii. children and youths who are living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, or similar settings; and

iv. migratory children who qualify as homeless for the purposes of this subtitle because the children are living in circumstances described in clauses (i) through (iii).[iv]

Alternative School: Criteria that a Public School must meet to be designated an Alternative Education Campus includes the following:  

–          Having a specialized mission and serving a special needs or at-risk population;

–          Being an autonomous Public School, meaning that the school provides a complete instructional program that allows students to proceed to the next grade level or to graduate;

–          Having an administrator who is not under the supervision of an administrator at another public school;

–          Having a budget separate from any other Public School;

–          Having nontraditional methods of instruction delivery; and

–          One of the following:

  • Serving a student population in which more than ninety-five percent of the students have either an individual education program pursuant to § 22-20-108, C.R.S. or meet the definition of a High-Risk Student; or
  • Serving students who attend on a part-time basis and who come from other Public Schools where the part-time students are counted in the enrollment of the other Public School; except that the results of the assessments administered pursuant to § 22-7-409, C.R.S., of all part-time students and High-Risk Students shall be used in determining the levels of attainment on the performance indicators for the Public School for which the student is counted for enrollment purposes.[v]


  • In total, Colorado school districts identified 12,302 children and youth experiencing homelessness
  • There are 47 alternative schools in the state of Colorado.
Categories: Uncategorized

Some Hidden Lake Pics

February 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Well, I’ve been making my photo life harder than it should be. I finally developed some film yesterday that I’ve had sitting in my camera. I have this tendency, though, to rewind my film backwards (yes, it’s a manual rewind). So, I wind and wind and end up yanking the film out of it’s canister. Which is really only a problem if I open the camera … Here are a couple of the photos. More to be scanned soon.

Categories: Uncategorized

Budgets and High-Risk

February 11, 2011 Leave a comment

Just doing a little updating on education funding in the state of Colorado and asking myself a few questions.


  • K-12 education funding[across the state] will be cut this year by $430 million
  • Adams 50 [the district that includes Hidden Lake High School] is expected to lose $7 million [10 percent cut]
  • These cuts are partly because of revisions to The School Finance Act, which passed in Spring 2010. 
  • A high-risk student is now defined as a “migrant child, a homeless child, and a child with a documented history of serious psychiatric or behavioral disorders.”
  • 95 percent of a school’s student body has to be high-risk or on an individual education plan for the school to be considered “alternative”


What I don’t know right now, is how HB10-1369 affects Hidden Lake and other alternative schools?  Hidden Lake doesn’t appear on HB10-1369’s evaluation of funding estimates of FY 2009-10 compared to FY 2010-11.

And, do at-risk students cost the state more money? Alternative schools generally have smaller class sizes and more one-on-one attention with students.
More to come. Going to get my hair cut.

Categories: Uncategorized

One Question

February 10, 2011 Leave a comment

A girl in a turquoise shirt and a round swollen belly turns around and looks at me.

“Can I ask you a question?”

I nod. “Yes, absolutely.” I’m glad someone is talking to me without being solicited.

The students at Hidden Lake are getting to know me more, but at first I felt like a bit of a phenomenon – the person with a camera or a notebook slinking around the room, sitting at their desks, in their bean bags, asking them questions, writing stuff down.

They’ve been nothing but welcoming, though.

Sometimes going into unfamiliar environments can feel strange but the students and the teachers at Hidden Lake have an innate ability to be honest and open with anyone. And the students – typical teenagers – seem to like the attention, especially when I bring a camera.

“Hey,” many of the boys will say. “Take a picture of me.” And then they pose.

One day, after leaving the school I was outside loading stuff into my car. Daniel –  a student who is in a class I often visit – passed by. “She took pictures of me yesterday,” he shouted to his posse, a group of teenage boys with low-hanging pants.

It sounds like pride in his voice.

I look for the opportunities to build rapports with the students. This could be one, so I close my notebook and give the girl my full attention. I don’t have any idea what she’s going to ask me, but I assume it’s about her senior project or about setting up a website or writing a proposal paper.

“Does ‘conceive’ mean when the sperm meets the egg” – she puts her fingertips together – “or when the baby is born?”

I don’t hear the last part of the question and I answer, “Yes.”

“Which one?” she asks.

“The first,” I say. “When the sperm meets the egg. When you become pregnant.”

Should I have said ‘fertilize’ instead of ‘meet’? Meet makes me think of the two sitting down to a cup of coffee – one sperm, one egg – working out some sort of deal, maybe shaking on it before they leave together, ready to embark on life as one.

I look at the girls belly and wonder when her baby is due.

Dante’s Inferno Meets Hidden Lake’s Inferno

February 8, 2011 Leave a comment

The students in Zoe Driver’s class read Dante’s “Inferno” last hexter and each had to do a project defining their own Hell. White posters with red and black flames licking the corners still hang from the classroom’s ceiling. Many are similar, but none are the same. 

The students’ layer of Hell are the Drama Queens, the Homeless and the Nobodies. They are the Greedy, the Worthless and the Weak. 

The Traffickers. 

The Murderers. 

And the Suicidal. 

They are the Lustful, the Lier’s and the Nobody’s.

They are Animal Abusers.


I’m intrigued by the amount of pain and depth the posters contain. The traffickers? The suicidal? Have these students had first-hand experience with these layers of hell?

Who are the nobodies? Why the homeless?

I don’t actually have answers to these questions, because the students have moved onto new projects. 


But here’s what I learned from doing some outside research.

According to the Colorado Office of Suicide Prevention’s 2009-10 annual report:

– Colorado has the six highest suicide rate in the country
– Among 10 to 34 year-olds, suicide was the second leading cause of death
– In 2009, 940 Coloradans committed suicide, the largest single-year total in the state’s history 
– The suicide rate in 2009 was the highest since 1988

To put this in context, there were 553 motor vehicle deaths in 2009.

According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment there were:

–  73 suicide deaths in Adams County in 2009
–  26 homicides in Adams County in 2009


All of this makes me wonder … how does suicide among young adults/teens affect education? Their future and their own families?

The American Association of Suicidology estimates that for every suicide there are six survivors. A survivor of suicide is a “family member or friend of a person who died by suicide.”

That means that there were an estimated 438 new survivors of suicide [73 x 6] in Adams County in 2009 alone. 


I am not drawing any direct connections between suicide, Westminster or Hidden Lake High School. I simply want to note that suicide rates in Colorado are high and that some students at Hidden Lake have identified the term and the act as “hellish.”

Categories: Data, Education

My First Class at Hidden Lake

February 7, 2011 Leave a comment

The first time I sat through a full class at Hidden Lake High School [in Westminster, Colo.] was in the beginning of January, 2011. It was their last day of the hexter – the school has ‘terms’ that last six weeks each – and a celebration was underway. Each student in Zoe Driver’s class brought in a favorite dish that represented some part of their cultural background. There were homemade sopas with refried beans and steak. There was chicken mole, chips and salsa, enchiladas and Mexican desserts I’d never seen or heard of. The one Asian student in the class made fried rice. 


Race and ethnicity are an integral part of Hidden Lake – and while I’m sometimes used to these topics being shied away from in exchange for political correctedness – the students inside Hidden Lake prefer to speak their minds.

Maybe this is because the school represents an opposite image of our country’s ethnic makeup. 

73 percent of the students at Hidden Lake are Latino. Whites are the minority. More than half of the students are eligible for free lunch. Most of the girls I meet are either pregnant or have children. 

But whatever the reasons, there is something ‘real’ about the people who walk the hallways and sit at the desks.

The atmosphere is raw and unedited. Students swear. They laugh loudly and they shout loudly. They are angry and happy and creative and passionate. Emotions run on roller coasters. They make jokes about sex and farting and male genitals. They practice saying hello and thank you.


Near the end of the day, one boy yells across the room to a girl, “Who’s the girl who inspirates you the most?”

“Inspirates?” she responds, laughing. 

“Yeah, the female who inspirates you the most.” It doesn’t really matter that the word is wrong. The girl understands. 

“Selena,” she says.

“Selena? Like the artist?” 

“Yeah,” she says.

 I don’t what I expected the girl to say, but I wasn’t thinking of Selena, the famous Mexican female vocalist who was murdered when most of these students were learning to walk. 

They surprised me the first day I was there. And they’ve surprised me everyday since. 


More to come