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Parent perspective: Let’s give more kids access to great schools

Editor’s note: This article was written by Susanna Pasillas, a parent at Denver charter school University Prep Steele. She works as a para-educator in Denver Public Schools.

Two years ago I never would have imagined I’d be playing a role in bringing an outstanding school to my community in Commerce City.  

And yet, after many months of hard work, it is happening and real, just in time for my youngest daughter Giselle to start her educational journey.  University Prep (U Prep) will open its first charter school outside Denver – in the Adams 14 school district. 

In 2019, I enrolled my older daughter Adylene at University Prep – Steele Street in Denver Public Schools, seeking a higher, better quality education than the one she was receiving in preschool at my neighborhood elementary in Adams County. Our local school was experiencing frequent teacher turnover and I didn’t feel the connection I wanted for my daughter as she was entering kindergarten.

I read reviews and saw from my relatives’ experiences that U Prep had a great reputation. Once Adylene started kindergarten – just a few months before the pandemic – I was in love with the school and its teachers, in love with everything about U Prep. 

Within weeks I saw my daughter’s academic skills progress significantly. She became very independent with all her assignments. She was able to verbalize in a way I hadn’t seen before. At her previous school, she’d return home not wanting to engage – she wouldn’t talk about what she had done in school.  

At U Prep, she was coming home talking about new things she was learning and about values such as responsibility.

Although the COVID pandemic brought obstacles none of us expected, I’m excited to see Adylene on track as a second-grader.  Even though much of first grade was remote, the school went above and beyond.

A big factor has been the communication. Teachers regularly check in with parents. Every two weeks, often more frequently, I would hear from Adylene’s teachers who were making sure that we had all the resources that we needed to ensure she was learning. And to make sure I was comfortable where she was at with her learning and that they were as well.  

For other families, U Prep was making sure students had the food they needed at home, resources to pay the bills and more. The school continues to be there for our community.

U Prep’s approach to education ensures teachers are highly engaged with each and every student. That’s something that they start at kindergarten.  

Before COVID, the principal was standing outside the door and greeting every student. She would say, “Good morning, Adylene, how are you today?” Adylene would respond and the principal would ask, “Why are you here today?” And Adelyne would say “to climb the mountain to college”.  Every day they help the students believe that they can reach their goals.  

Math is one of my daughter’s strongest subjects. She has a math teacher who is beyond incredible. I listened to her remotely last year and she engages the students really well so that the students are not only paying attention but truly learning. She makes it fun. Adylene always wants to do more in math, asking for extra work, and more worksheets. She’s always wanting to know more and wanting to show her teachers that she can take on new challenges. 

I felt like if I needed to speak with them or if we needed a follow-up with an issue or something that she needed or improve on, they would make themselves available and we would communicate.

I remember saying during a school meeting, “Whatever training you guys are doing for the teachers, during the summer or right before the students start, just continue to do so just because that really helps the way they see their students, the way they talk to their kids.” Everything about their training is just amazing.

I wish I would have had access to U Prep for Adylene’s preschool. I’m very pleased that there’s a new U Prep coming to Commerce City because it’s going to be good for the community. The pre-K program is going to be huge for my daughter Giselle. I know that a lot of the parents who have children in Commerce City are excited.

They are going to introduce bilingual programming into the school. With so many Latino families in Commerce City where Spanish is their first language, this is going to be highly beneficial for the community. As a member of the Co-design Team that proposed the new school, I am so pleased that we’re approaching bilingualism as an asset and ensuring children and families are uplifted by this added gift they bring of carrying multiple languages.

As we gear up for the launch of the new school, something we’re looking into and working with the district on is transportation. It’s not enough to have a great school option, we also need to make sure that everyone has access to the school as a real choice for their family.

I am filled with pride when I reflect and recognize that I am a direct part of the change I wish to see in my own backyard when it comes to opportunities for our young people and their future.