Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Denver Green School: A new community school in Southeast Denver

The Denver Green School will be opening this fall to a tremendous amount of community support and enthusiasm. This is one school that truly deserves the excitement it is garnering as a new neighborhood school within Denver Public Schools.

I talked to two of the Founding Partners and came away more excited about the school than before. Mimi Diaz has been a special educator for 15 years, an Instructional Specialist, and an Assistant Principal at Schmitt Elementary, until she had the idea for this school and met others that had similar dreams. Frank Coyne is currently the Associate Director of the Center for Community Engagement and Service-Learning at the University of Denver and oversaw the partnerships between DU and DPS. Both of them shared their contagious enthusiasm for the unique school that will open in a few months.

What was the inspiration behind the creation of this school and how did it get started?
I (Mimi) attended one of the first "Innovation" schools in the country, The Center for Self Directed Learning at New Trier East High School in Winnetka, Illinois. This experience is what has driven not only my career in education, but also a lifelong love of learning and leading. The experience inspired me to research green schools and renewable energy around the nation and best-practice 21st century learning models. Through Earth Force (, I met Jeff Buck, one of our Founding Partners and gurus on sustainability. From there, it was just meant to be, as the nine of us met for the first time and quickly honed in on a vision and mission, and the dream was born. We felt that project-based, service learning model in a diverse setting would work well in a classroom and make for a strong, sustainable school. Together we have 147 years of combined experience and it’s been two years in the making. We can’t wait for our doors to open.

Shouldn’t all schools be promoting and practicing environmental awareness and good policy? Why a separate school for this with such a focus?
It’s not a school just about the environment, but about sustainability. It follows the Cloud Institute’s Education for Sustainability Standards. The Cloud Institute ( is not only about environmentalism, but they focus on sustainability in the economy, social constructs, and teaching and learning as well. It’s about sustainability for the whole child, and we are excited that we will have a three-year consulting relationship with them for their support.

This school is promoted as being project-based and student-centered. How is this different from experiential learning models?
It is quite similar in the project-based and service learning components, but the main difference is that the Experiential Learning model tends to take school outside with a strong physical focus, and the Denver Green School will make efforts to bring community action inside to learn across disciplines. Earth Force will help us integrate that across all areas of our curriculum. We intend to be a community school and build reciprocal relationships with our community to build investment in the success of the school.

Describe the service learning model and how that is beneficial for learning and communities.
The research shows that the more kids are engaged, the more they learn and service-learning takes a hands-on, brains-on approach to engage kids in active learning. An example of a strong service-learning project would be that instead of just cleaning up a river in our neighborhood, we would encourage analysis, research and upstream problem solving. They could research the source of the litter, the frequency of visitors, the propensity of trash cans, etc. This is problem solving through analysis, synthesis and critical thinking – the higher order thinking skills for successful learners and change agents of the 21st Century.

What kinds of families are attracted to the school? What kinds of students will thrive there?
We were recruited by this neighborhood because they wanted a strong new model in this great building (formerly Fallis Elementary) and it very much fit within our vision of sustainability and diversity. There are 50 different languages spoken within our boundaries. Many are attracted by the green movement and sustainability approach. The student-centered, project-based model attracts others. They will each inform each other. The model is based on instructional practices that work for all kids. Every student will have an Individualized Learning Plan that will address not only his academic strengths, but also his interests and learning styles, and talents. Because learning will be balanced and tailored to each student’s need, it is truly an approach that will meet the needs of every student. So, in essence, we find that we are attractive to boundary families and choice-in families, too, both of whom are attracted to our “hands-on brains-on” model.

I understand you do not employ the typical hierarchy but instead go for more democratic model that also translates at the student level. Describe the leadership at DGS and how this will affect student life.
It is a Democratic model of governance. There are nine Founding Partners who are part of the decision-making body, along with students, staff, and community. There will be three Lead Partners who will take on more of an administrative role and directly carry out the mission, values, and vision of the school on a daily basis. Getting that kind of consensus and buy-in from the top down is an investment in sustainability and cooperation within the school and community. It’s not an easy process, but it creates long term buy-in and we think it’s worth it.

Denver Green School will be hosting a Community BBQ Saturday May 15th and all are invited. 3:00pm – 6:00pm at the school, located at 6700 East Virginia Avenue.

All students, families and community members are invited to DGS to meet our school leaders, interact with teachers and tour the school – all while grabbing dinner and checking out some live music. Enrollment forms will be available. We will have lots of fun activities for the kids, too!

For more information about the Denver Green School, go to:


  1. Hi Tracy - this sounds like the perfect place for you!

  2. Mary-Helen, it looks like it is going to be a GREAT school! I would love to be a part of it as a family member or employee!