Recently the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado-Boulder awarded South High School in Denver a Gold award through its Schools of Opportunity Recognition Program. The program recognizes public high schools that have demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to equity and excellence by giving all students the opportunity to succeed. But if you really want to to know what makes South High a great place for all students of all backgrounds, listen to its students:
Hello, Hola, Salam, مرحبا (marhaba), Iska Warren, Bonjour,
These are some ways that you might be greeted when walking in the doors of Denver South High School each morning. I have attended South for three years and, throughout my time here, the concept of everyone belonging to a community larger than themselves is emphasized through the statement, “I am Denver South.” As I walk to my first period class, I am greeted by the teachers, faculty and students who have truly made South the school “Where the World Gathers to Excel.” I have been fortunate in my experience at South and have experienced tons of personal growth and opportunity. With this personal growth, I’ve come to realize that many perspectives of my peers cannot be combined into my own single perspective. Thus, I asked some of my peers to share why they think South has given them opportunity:
Growing up in Denver, going to the Denver Center of Performing Arts and seeing shows with my family is a tradition that has shaped who I am and who I want to become. My dad was an actor before my sisters and I were born and I have always wanted to follow in his footsteps. When my sister was a junior at South and I was in eighth grade, I came to watch their production of Into the Woods. I knew I wanted nothing more than to be a part of a community like this. The theater program at Denver South High School has given me a second family and place to grow into myself.
Every student is offered the opportunity to grow and develop in an incredibly supportive community that is based in the value of diversity, art and a unique chance to become a part of something beautiful.
If I had not attended South, I would never have tried theater, never been exposed to the beauty of multicultural performance and would have never grown so deeply connected to others through art. I am Colleen Campbell. I was born and raised with my sisters in Denver. I am a junior class president and a Student Board of Education representative. I am a speech and debate nationalist. I am a total theater nerd. I am incredibly proud of my school and the students who make it a beautiful community. I am Denver South.
Throughout my time at South, I have been given the opportunity to be involved in a variety of activities, which is something I know I would not have had the chance to do at any other school. I have been able to be a part of three different varsity teams. During my freshman year, I was playing in our rivalry game for basketball when I heard the other school’s coach declare, “She is never going to touch the ball.” This statement proved to me that I wouldn’t have gotten any of the opportunities that I have received at South at any other school.
South welcomes students with open arms and does not determine their potential based on first glance.
I have been encouraged and supported throughout my four years here and have gotten the chance to explore new sports and activities while excelling. Through being so welcoming, South has provided me and many other students with the opportunity to become involved in sports and clubs we would have not been able to be a part of in any other situation. I have been able to become more involved and to connect with my peers through these activities, an experience that I would never trade anything for. I am Nicole Oberlag. I have grown up in Denver. I am a three-sport varsity athlete. I am a member of Student Senate. I am a co-president of the Class of 2018. I am a member of STEM and math club. I am a Student Board Representative. I am part of National Honor Society. I love my school. I am Denver South.
Up until the seventh grade, I attended a private Catholic school, Most Precious Blood. I wanted a change, so I chose a school that was almost the exact opposite of my previous school, the Girls Athletic Leadership School (GALS). GALS is an all-girls public charter school. Needless to say, being there was a drastic change. At GALS, I met people from all ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. I learned so much from my classmates, as I learned about their struggles and what they have overcome. GALS opened my eyes, as I was exposed to and educated on real world issues. When choosing a high school, I was looking for one that had a diverse environment like GALS, one that was passionate about their students and one that offers a myriad of opportunities. I shadowed South High School. Then, I was welcomed into the accepting community of South High School. I now attend one of the most diverse high schools in Colorado. Denver South High School has shaped who I am.
We have over 60 countries represented, and I have had the unique experience of getting to meet students from all around the world and hear their stories. I have heard the stories of refugees, immigrants and Dreamers — I have been able to put faces and names to what I read and hear about in the news.
I have been given opportunities that I would not have been offered anywhere else. One specific opportunity that has been unique to my high school experience is my video internship course with my school news show, the Rebel Report. This course has given me the opportunity to step outside of my comfort zone and get involved in my school community. I have witnessed the inner workings of my school and have been able to develop more connections with our staff and my fellow classmates. This is just one example of an opportunity that allowed me to get involved and cultivate my passions. Our school celebrates diversity, because diversity is the unique fabric of our school, our local community and our country. South is an interconnected community — if something has an impact on one student, it has an impact on the entire community. Meeting students from around the world has awakened my passion for social justice and has inspired me to support the rights of undocumented immigrants and refugees. I am Sofia Garcia. I am president of National Honors Society. I am the vice president of Latinx Student Alliance. I am a varsity athlete. I am a wise Latina. I am Denver South.
South’s ability to face any problem head on and grow collectively as a community has presented the opportunity of allowing South High School to always be the best version of itself. One of the prominent ways that South has been impactful and provided better opportunities for its students is with the Rising Rebels program. This program is dedicated to increasing the number of students of color in Advanced Placement, Honors, and concurrent enrollment classes. I remember being in Pre-Advanced Placement courses in middle school and how uncomfortable I felt being, not only the only African American, but also the only student of color in almost all of my classes. The school’s diverse population was not reflected in the higher-level courses that it offered. Whenever topics of slavery or third world countries came up, I can feel everyone sneaking a look my way. Those kind of conversations were avoided because no one understood what it was like to be an immigrant or a person of color. I knew that something needed to change because it was a problem many schools faced. South High School understood the change that needed to happen. This is why our school administration founded Rising Rebels. I was part of the original student members that helped dictate the direction of the club. We started with only 73 students of color. Today, that number has exponentially jumped to 463, of which 85 percent of whom are passing. Our accomplishment has also gone out of our school walls and has been recognized nationally.
Diversity is not only about race, but is also about gender, thought, experience and background. Because South understands this key element, the school will continue to cultivate a growing and understanding environment.
I am Sara Gebretsadik. I am an immigrant from Ethiopia. I am president of Rising Rebels. I am a Student Board of Education and student body representative. I am a dancer. I am an honor athlete and I am Denver South.
South creates an environment where students are given the tools they need to make a difference in the school, community and beyond. From the very first day of freshman year, I was encouraged to be someone who “makes it happen.” With the support of teachers, I have been given the opportunity to excel in school while also becoming a leader of the student body.
As a timid teen coming into high school, I was greeted by a community that encouraged me to go beyond my expectations of myself.
I was invited to join the South’s student leadership team during my junior year. Students are given the opportunity to truly make a difference within South High School and beyond by participating in student leadership. I’ve been pushed to think in different ways and to try new things. With the wide range of perspectives held by South students, I am constantly being encouraged to share my thoughts and ideas. I have never been one who has liked speaking in front of others. By attending South, I have gained the confidence to talk about issues that matter. South creates a cycle in which students are able to explore their interests, which in turn creates opportunity for other students. Throughout their time at South, students are encouraged to create their own clubs and organize their own events. There is always the opportunity to try something new and push myself to become a better student, leader and peer. Looking back on my four years at South, I realize that South has prepared me to enter the world with confidence. My name is Annie Heckman. I am a Chinese adoptee. I am a member of Student Senate and the Student Board of Education. I am a proud student of Denver South High School. I am Denver South.
South has provided the opportunity for me to figure out who I am. In my middle school, I struggled to find my identity as a black male. I went to a very small start-up charter school called AXL Academy. From the very beginning of third grade, I had the same people in my class as I did when I was in eighth grade. I was not unique in my school. I was not Jua Fletcher. I was only a student who went to school and got good grades.
Previously being in an environment that praised the idea of collectivism rather than individualism, I was unable to find an identity for myself. I felt as if I was unwanted in the classroom, my school, my community and even in my own skin.
South High School gave me the chance to join Black Student Alliance. In that club, I learned about myself. I also learned what it looks like to identify as a black male. I was able to better understand the progress and setbacks that my people have faced both collectively and as individuals in our communities. I also have been able to become comfortable again in my school and in my classroom. My goals now in life are to spread the comfortability and security that Black Student Alliance has provided for me. My name is Jua Fletcher. I am the president of Black Student Alliance. I am the Head Boy (male Student Body President) at Denver South high school. I am a student advocate. I am a student leader. I am a strong black man. I am Denver South.
As someone who has always cared a lot about academics, the classes that a school offers are really important to me. So, in the eighth grade when I was choosing what high school go to, I almost immediately knew that South High School was the school for me just based on the 18 AP classes that the school offered. When I came to South, I instantly enrolled in the Advanced Placement course for Human Geography, a class unique to South because it is the only AP class offered to freshmen across Denver Public Schools. Starting this course was very challenging. I had more homework than ever before. The material was much more advanced than I had thought. Still, with the support system put in place at South, like teacher and peer tutoring, I was able to end each semester of the course with an A in the class. Plus, in May, I passed my first AP exam with a score of 4 (5 is the highest score possible). This class, along with the other five AP classes I have taken within the last three years, has pushed me to grow as a student. All have prepared me for the types of classes that await me in college.
South has done an amazing job of offering rigorous courses for students in every subject, from traditional classes like math and English, to classes like AP Studio art.
What I find most amazing about South is that I have learned as much in the classrooms at South as I have while just walking in the hallways. Being able to come into such an accepting environment, I have been able to join many different clubs like Speech and Debate. I also play soccer. I have met many different people from all different backgrounds within these communities. Additionally, I have been able to learn about cultures and traditions all over the world, which I would not have the opportunity to do if I did not go to an amazing school like South. I am Katie Maloney. I am a soccer player. I am a speech and debate member. I have lived in Denver my entire life. I am Denver South.
I have the privilege of working as a partner with students with special needs in the Unified Sports program at Denver South High School. From shooting free throws in basketball to simply walking and talking, we work with these students on a number of skills. As a class, we compete in four seasons of sports. We also compete in the Special Olympics at the end of the year. Partners like myself help students in many ways both inside and outside of the classroom. We are sometimes the only connection that these students have to the “traditional” student body. Last year, I helped plan the first ever “R Word Campaign” at South. This is a national initiative we implemented to end the use of the word “retard” and to inform people about the negative origins of the word. In addition, we educated students throughout our school about disabilities. Finally, we encouraged other South High School students to get involved with our amazing students with special needs.
At South, everyone is equal. No matter who you are, you are treated with respect and kindness.
I am Eliana Goldberg. I am the Head Girl (female student body president). I am a partner in Unified Sports. I am the president of the Jewish Student alliance. I am grateful for the experiences that South has given me. I am Denver South.
I arrived in America as a refugee nine years ago. By the time I started attending South High School as a freshman, I had overcome many academic disadvantages. In fact, I was taking honors classes at South. I continued to grow academically at my school by taking AP classes and concurrent enrollment classes. For me, however, the real magic of South High School was in its ability to empower me to become a leader by embracing my experiences and unique perspective. One of my favorite ways of accomplishing this has been through being able to translate Arabic for new refugee families. I remember the anxiety that I felt when I first started school in America. I also know that these fears can be even more present when starting new at the high school level. So, each time I am called down to the counselor’s office to translate for and mentor an Arabic-speaking refugee student, I am always happy to be able to help them with the translation and through this transition. Had I not been given the opportunity to do this, I would not have known about the power I have to help others. Without this chance, I would not have been able to use the experience of overcoming my difficult experiences to create a positive change in someone else’s life. Throughout my years here at South, I have been given a variety of opportunities to become empowered and a leader.
Last year, the faculty at South chose me to be part of a group of a handful of other immigrant female students to have a private lunch with Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani activist for female education and the youngest Nobel Prize laureate. The leaders at South knew that we would have a lot in common with her. They also knew that meeting her would set a good example for us and be a powerful experience. After that meeting with Malala, I realized that we are all capable of making a great change if we stand up for what we believe is right.
Even though this was not my first time hearing this message, it was only after this meeting that I fully internalized it. South High School has taught me to use my perspective and strength as a refugee, as a woman, as a Muslim and as a student to help others. I will forever carry on this legacy because I am and will always be Denver South.