by Emily Taets

Chris Hansen, representative-elect for House District 6, visited Gust Elementary on Monday, November 28th, 2016. Although Representative Hansen’s area of expertise lies primarily in the environment and energy sector, he is well aware of the issues that students and educators face today. Both of his sons attend the Rocky Mountain School of Expeditionary Learning, and his wife is very involved in education.

The visit began with a meeting with Principal Joanne Lander, who provided background on the students and families of Gust. Representative Hansen was also able to visit three classrooms, where he observed lessons on social-emotional learning, mathematics, and literacy. Next, students and teachers participated in a question and answer session, and the visit concluded with a tour of Gust’s facilities.

From start to finish, Representative Hansen engaged the Gust community in meaningful dialogue. Discussion centered on key issues facing children in urban districts, such as:

Transient nature of the student population. At the start of the visit, Representative Hansen inquired about the transient behaviors of Gust families. This spurred a discussion regarding how the students and families of Denver Public Schools are constantly on the move due to increasing rent prices and job availability. Conversation then turned to the extreme challenges these students face. Curriculum and scope and sequence vary from district to district and even from school to school. This, in turn, perpetuates the achievement gap and has a huge impact on a child’s ability to perform on state tests.

Whole child and social-emotional learning. After observing the lesson on social-emotional learning in which students discussed how to handle “put-downs,” discussion turned toward the issue of mental health support. Because of poverty and trauma, students in Title I schools face huge obstacles when it comes to mental health. Representative Hansen and Gust teachers pondered the current catch-22: the number of students facing mental health issues are increasing at a rapid rate, but funding for things like mental health programs and resources, social workers, and school psychologist are scarce.

Amount of state testing. During the question and answer session, Representative Hansen asked Gust teachers about their thoughts and opinions regarding the amount of state testing, a topic that will be addressed in the legislator. All teachers agreed that decreasing testing would be best for students. Currently, 3rd graders in the State of Colorado are subjected to nine hours of testing. The main argument for less testing is that it is not developmentally appropriate for eight- and nine-year-olds to sit and test for such an extensive period of time. The lag time in results was also discussed. Families and students do not receive results until the following school year, which greatly dilutes the meaningfulness of the data.

 Overall, the visit was highly successful. Administrators, teachers, and students all agreed that it was wonderful to host Representative Hansen at Gust!

Emily Taets is a 4th grade teacher at Gust Elementary in Denver. She has a Master's in Urban Education and is a Colorado Educator Voice Fellow with America Achieves.