Water Conservation. Behavioral Health. Relationships with Law Enforcement. Our community is faced with many important issues — and Denver’s students are stepping up to the challenge of finding solutions. On November 5th at Coors Field, Denver Public Schools’ high school students joined together to compete and discuss their solutions to these critical issues. The event, appropriately named, Challenge 5280, provides an opportunity for students’ creativity, teamwork and ingenuity to shine as they strengthen their leadership skills.
The Inspiration: At the start of the school year, leaders tackling some of society’s toughest problems shared their experiences with the students and then issued a challenge asking students to advance solutions. Challenges proposed to student groups by Kaiser Permanente, Denver Foundation, Denver Water, Mayor Hancock, Denver Police Department Chief White and others ranged from how to educate peers on water conservation, to improving behavioral health of schools by using art to build community, to how to effectively build healthy relationships with the Denver Police Department. Each student group was able to choose what challenge they wanted to work to resolve and spent the next seven weeks building awareness, strategizing solutions, overcoming issues, and getting their schools and community involved. Many students discussed their own personal growth while participating in the project through highly active critical thinking, and leadership skills training.
The Competition: On the day of the event, teams presented their bold solutions to a panel of distinguished judges, which included a short 10-minute on-stage presentation, elevator pitch and a standing exhibit. Judges select the top team based on creativity, feasibility, sustainability, originality, and demonstrated community support.
South High School’s group, which was challenged with building healthy and trusting relationships between young people and Denver law enforcement, was announced as the first place winner. Other winning schools included Summit Academy, Denver North High School, Thomas Jefferson High School, CEC Middle College of Denver, and West High School.
Want to see how DPS high schoolers worked to create positive change in their schools? Watch a video recap of the event.
Mayor Michael Hancock and Denver Police Chief White Challenge Students to Build Healthy Relationships with DPD
The Challenge: “I challenge you to design a strategy to build healthy trusting relationships between young people and Denver law enforcement.” – Mayor Michael B. Hancock and DPD Chief Robert White
Schools Participating: Denver Center for International Studies (DCIS), East High School, PUSH Academy, South High School, Summit Academy
The Problem: Pre-survey at East High School: 74% of students were uncomfortable around police and 76% of students felt uncomfortable going to police for help. Common words students used when describing police officers: racist, over-reacting, violence, guns, white men, forceful, and other less than favorable words.
Students’ Creative Solutions: Each school team created different events where police officers came into their schools during the fall semester to engage with students.
One of the events organized was a peace walk, which was intended to promote respect for law enforcement for putting their lives on the line. About 250 students participated in the walk while holding signs promoting better, healthier relationships with police. The peace walk brought attention to the need for better police and community relationships and also got the community to realize that students are standing up for the police and want to make a change.
Other creative solutions included holding a kickball event with students and police officers where students and police officers teamed together. Another school held educational outreach sessions where police joined students in classrooms, a Police Car Show, and an opportunity for students to check out a Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) van, all of which helped students become more familiar with their local law enforcement community. The winning school, South High School, created an obstacle course, cleverly named “Copstacles” where a student and a police officer are handcuffed together while running through an obstacle course. This helped to build relationships amongst students and police officers, and it was also a lot of fun!
Measurable Impact: The groups created a new survey following the event to see if their efforts made an impact. Post-survey results showed that 32% of students felt more comfortable around police. When asked to describe words associated with police offers, students listed more positive words, such as, smart, safe, hero, and cool.
Many DPD police officers, including Chief White, attended Challenge 5280 in support of students at the event to cheer them on and see their final presentations. At one point in the event, students spontaneously surrounded police officers in a massive group hug to show their support. It was a very inspiring moment for all who attended, seeing the impact the students are already having to influence change in police and student relationships.