The mornings are perhaps the most important time of day in Faye Doverspike’s classroom.
That’s when the sixth-grade reading and writing teacher at Pleasant View Elementary School gets to know her 30 students simply as kids.
“We bond every day,” Doverspike said. “We laugh. We have important conversations. We are flexible with our schedule when we have to be. We all know when it’s time to be silly and when it’s time to take the learning seriously.”
They eat breakfast together and talk. The atmosphere is relaxed, but purposeful.
Then the students move on to their reading and writing lessons.
It’s not uncommon for students to take charge of their own learning.
“They take turns, they ask relevant questions, they share their thinking and where it came from,” Doverspike said. “As their teacher, that is crazy rewarding.”
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Pleasant View Elementary is a small school of 215 students, situated on a one-way street just south of South Golden Road and north of West Colfax Avenue, in a 2.5-square-mile community tucked between Golden and Lakewood.
Its challenges are great: Enrollment is the lowest since 2000. A large number of its students are homeless and transient. It is a Title 1 school, which means more than three-quarters of its students are on free or reduced lunch. Test scores are low. The school sits in a neighborhood that is struggling economically.
But for its students, parents and teachers, the 67-year-old school is a source of strength.
“Our close-knit school community has been a source of stability and home for so many students and families, through good times and bad,” said Laurie Arnold-Kelly, president of Pleasant View’s Parent-Teacher-Student-Association. “We have become a place that offers hope for the future of the Pleasant View community overall.”
But at the end of May, Pleasant View will shut its doors for good.
The Jeffco Schools Board of Education approved the closure in February, as part of cost-cutting measures resulting from the November defeat of bond and mill levy proposals. It was the third time in six yearsthat the school had been placed on a possible closure list. Four other elementaries on the list were spared.
District officials cited low enrollment and aging building conditions as main reasons for the closure, which will save Jeffco Schools $662,742 — money that will go toward the school board’s goal of improving salaries to attract and retain high-quality educators.
Acceptance of the school’s fate is not coming easily, Arnold-Kelly said.
“The transition will be very difficult,” she said, “and these relationships will be hard to replicate or rebuild elsewhere.”
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Pleasant View’s Title 1 designation means many of its students come from poor households and need additional resources to ensure academic success.
During the 2015-16, only 55 of the more than 200students were not eligible for free and reduced lunch programs.
An estimated 20 percent of students are homeless and a large number are transient, which means they do not stay for an entire school year.
On average, Pleasant View’s mobility rate — students who do not stay enrolled in the school the entire academic year — is about 35 to 40 percent of the student population.
“That’s pretty significant,” Principal Janace Fischer said. “We get students in and out throughout the school year.”
One contributing factor is the lack of affordable housing, Fischer said.
The school is nestled among a neighborhood of small-to-medium sized ranch-style homes and a few apartment or condo complexes. In addition, there are a number of manufactured and mobile home communities in the school’s boundaries. One such community advertises that only a four-month minimum commitment is needed to rent an RV lot.
The community’s transient nature means that much more than teaching reading, writing, math and science goes on inside the school’s classrooms.
“Over the years, we have taught countless kids about the importance of exercise, mindfulness, perseverance, empathy, kindness and community service,” said Doverspike, who also meets weekly with all third- through sixth-graders in small groups or individually to teach them social and emotional health lessons. “We have put food in their bellies and clothes on their backs. We have helped families find health insurance and housing and counseling. We have to love these kids in order to do this work.”
During the 2015-16 school year, only 55 of the 294 students were not eligible for free or reduced lunch assistance: 67.2 percent qualified for the free lunch program and 10.5 percent for the reduced lunch program.
“We have some students who literally eat all three of their meals at school,” Doverspike said.
Resources from the greater Golden and Jefferson County communities have stepped in to help.
The Action Center and the Golden Backpack Program partnered to launch the school’s Fresh Food Pantry. For a $10 monthly fee, the pantry gives parents weekly access to shop for fresh food — dairy products, bread, fruits and vegetables — and even coffee and desserts.
Golden Tutoring & Enrichment’s MATHrive, an extracurricular academic workshop to improve math skills, is available for free at Pleasant View, thanks to a grant from the Golden Schools Foundation.
And through the 21st Century Community Learning Grant, Pleasant View offers free before- and after-school enrichment clubs. The clubs change every semester depending on the students’ interests, Fischer said, but have included everything from robotics to sewing to running.
“Students involved with passion areas and extracurricular activities are more likely to stay in school and graduate high school,” Fischer said.
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Despite the many programs that help students succeed, 51 percent of students living in Pleasant View boundaries choose to attend other elementaries, according to the district’s Facilities Master Plan for the first semester of the current academic year. Some 46 percent of students also have enrolled from outside the boundaries. But the school’s 222 students at the start of the year reflect a continuous decline since 2000.
The school district wants 350 to 400 students enrolled at each elementary school, Fischer said.
But for Pleasant View, that’s a challenging task. According to the school’s geographic boundary area, there should be about 290 students attending Pleasant View as their neighborhood school. Fischer attributes this year’s low enrollment in part to the fact that the school was on a potential closure listlast summer.
The school building also is growing old.
Since opening in 1950, the 49,079-square-foot school has undergone four additions, two in the 1960s and two in the 1990s, to accommodate growing enrollment. Pleasant View’s peak enrollment over the past couple of decades was 355 students in 2000. The school, which has a capacity of 392 students, is only 64 percent utilized. But according to the school district’s Facility Condition Index, although the building needs interior and exterior upgrades, it is in fair condition. Although the Jeffco school board and district officials say academic performance was not a factor in deciding which schools to close, Pleasant View student performance scores on state assessment tests are well below the state and district average. That also could be another reason for low enrollment, Fischer said.
But although performance scores for the student body as a whole are low, the school’s growth scores — which are based on students who stay in a school for an entire year — are consistently good. For example, a third-grader at Pleasant View makes a year’s progress and is prepared to enter the fourth grade at or above grade level, Fischer said.
“This is amazing and important work, but it can also bring extra challenges and heartbreak when kids aren’t thriving the way we want them to,” Doverspike said. “Seeing their reading scores go up is definitely rewarding, but knowing that we are enriching their lives in more dynamic ways makes it all the more meaningful to come to work every day.”
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For Erika Bylon, that commitment to a child’s overall wellbeing made a difference for her fourth-grade daughter. She started the school year at an elementary in Lakewood, but transferred to Pleasant View about six months ago because the family moved to the area.
Her daughter now has a new best friend who got her interested in gymnastics and Girl Scouts.
“This school has great programs that always keep kids learning and experiencing new things,” said Bylon, who also has a preschooler at the school. “Not every school is like Pleasant View.”
Doverspike would agree: The school is a caring community.
Teachers write encouraging notes to each other. Sixth-graders mentor younger peers. They celebrate each other with Student of the Week and Staff Member of the Month awards.
“There is a lot of communication and high-level language in my classroom,” Doverspike said. “When things don’t feel good because of a conflict or anything else, we talk about it. We are a team, and if you aren’t pulling your weight on your own, we pull you along with us.”
And the best reward, Doverspike said, is when former students come back to visit.
“Those kids don’t have to come back and visit. They want to because they hold great memories of the school and being in my class,” she said. “It’s their way of saying thank you, that we made a difference in their lives, and that is the biggest reward I could ever want from this job.”