Exemplary Districts and Schools – Boulder, CO
Boulder Valley School District
Ensuring that everyone’s point of view counts
In Boulder, improving school climates is one of three top goals districtwide. That’s where the Boulder Valley Safe Schools Coalition comes in.
“We’re a community advisory group to the superintendent, and that’s rare,” says co-founder Jean Hodges. She’s also the national vice president of Parents, Families, & Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) – and a past president of Boulder County’s PFLAG chapter.
The coalition started in 1998 with the vision that each school is a place where every family can belong, every educator can teach, and every child can learn.
“We believe strongly that you stop harassment early on and reaffirm it all along the way,” says Hodges. “But, we realized that there wasn’t anything being done to change climates in terms of acceptance. There was no programming in place.”
In 2000 Hodges developed the coalition’s Everyone Counts program. “It’s the best program that I know around the country,” she says. “If we can change people’s perspectives about how they look at lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning students – and any students who are marginalized for who they are – it’s going to change behaviors.”
The program is infused into elementary, middle and high school core subjects such as social studies and English.
“For instance, we look at the concept of family in the elementary grades,” says Hodges. “Every school teaches about family as a social unit. There are many forms of family, and they’re all okay.”
One of the program’s goals at the elementary level is to stop name calling.
“When young children say ‘gay,’ they may not know what it means, but they’ve learned it’s negative,” says Hodges. “In order to deal with bullying, you have to deal with attitudes in schools throughout the entire system. It’s a matter of making a very conscious effort to respect and accept others.”
Case in point: When students at Platt Middle School teamed up to stop harassment and extend students’ understanding of each other’s points of view, putdowns became rare.
“Students handmade posters about stopping putdowns, and the posters were everywhere in the school,” says Hodges. “Older kids worked with the incoming sixth graders, and they really changed the culture. It was successful because the kids owned it.”
Offering Kids a New (Healthy) Menu
Boulder Valley School District is reinventing the school lunch.
Highly processed foods have been eliminated as have artery-clogging transfats and bad-for-you fructose corn syrup. Refined sugar and flour are used minimally.
Walk into any school cafeteria in the district and you’ll see healthy, wholesome food. Locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables are served daily. Roasted chicken has replaced highly processed chicken nuggets. Every school has a salad bar.
“Previously, our food service employees’ tools of the trade were a box cutter and a can opener,” says Boulder Valley School District Superintendent Chris King. “We weren’t cutting up fresh food and cooking it. Now it’s fresh food cooked from scratch.”
Students wash down their wholesome meals with Colorado milk free of hormones and antibiotics. And because breakfast is now served in every school, many kids get an extra boost at the start of their day.
Studies show that good food is good for students. “There is a lot of research that supports the link between good cognition and good nutrition,” says King. “Clearly when you eat well, your brain and body perform better.”
Within the first month of school, the district topped its most lunches ever served in one day: 10,000. Typically, the district serves closer to 6,000 meals. “We are bringing more kids back into our cafeteria, even though the cost of a lunch went up 25 cents,” says King.
The Colorado Legacy Foundation believes that increased student achievement for all Colorado students requires effective leaders in every school, effective educators in every classroom, and healthy and engaging environments that ignite a passion for learning in every student.