Golden High School, the oldest continuously operating high school in Colorado, first opened in 1873. The current building, funded by a 2004 voter-approved bond package, opened to students in 2008.
With a 145-year history, GHS has seen countless changes. After nine years as an assistant principal (AP) at GHS, Carter highlighted demographics as one of the biggest changes.
“We have much more diversity within our student population with regard to ethnicity, students qualifying for free or reduced lunch, etc.,” she said. “We also serve a higher number of students who have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 designation of some sort.” IEPs and 504s provide extra accommodations and support for students with a disability.
Changing student experiences at GHS
Carter said she wishes more people could see firsthand what happens in today’s classrooms.
“The traditional classroom is becoming a thing of the past,” she noted. “Our staff is much more adept at delivering instruction that is geared toward the students of today and how they learn. Classrooms are more challenging and engaging, and there are some truly exciting things happening with regard to changing students’ experiences.”
GHS has implemented instructional changes at a “much quicker rate than in the past,” she added. Nevertheless, “GHS staff are continuously working on improving classroom instruction and being open to new opportunities, learning, and reality in general,” she said.
“We’re really focused on the ‘transforming the student task’ aspect of the district’s vision [Jeffco Generations],” Carter explained. “We have begun implementing the 1:1 initiative with our freshmen, ensuring they all received Chromebooks at the beginning of the year, and we also have some new course offerings and pathways such as Geometry in Construction and the World of Work program.”
One national issue that has significantly impacted GHS is the stigma of mandated assessments, Carter said..
“We want to help our community understand that these assessments can be very effective tools for progress monitoring and showing how well we are meeting our school goals,” she said. “We are working to incentivize student effort and achievement in a variety of ways so that hopefully we can truly demonstrate by the numbers how effective our teachers are and how much our students are growing academically.”
GHS is changing educator experiences too
Along with changes in the classroom and educational trends, GHS has also seen changes in leadership structures.
“I personally am proud of the direction of our leadership team. Golden has moved from a more ‘top-down’ approach to the shared leadership model,” Carter said. “Staff committees help to develop and shape school policies and initiatives, and we are working toward incorporating even more student and community voices.”
To help educators transform the student task, GHS now targets professional development for teachers “around authentic student tasks and assessments.” Teachers also collaborate within structured professional learning communities (PLCs) to continually improve instruction and increase ways for students to demonstrate their learning and understanding of a topic, Carter said.
The school is also implementing multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS) from structured student interventions to improving climate and culture for students and staff.
“We’re also working hard to embed and model in all of our professional development the kind of instruction and risk taking that we are encouraging our teachers to embrace,” Carter added.
‘School safety and mental health are the priority’
Carter said the biggest change GHS has seen in the past few years is the increased need for mental health supports for students.
“School safety and mental health are the priority,” she said. “Instruction actually comes second, because if a student is not in a space where he or she is able to learn, the instruction component is irrelevant.”
In addition to four counselors — each assigned to a future graduating class — GHS has several other resources to help students facing challenges.
These include a school psychologist, several special education teachers and paraprofessionals, a clinic aide, and, new this year, a full-time registered nurse (RN). One of eight site-based high school RNs, Valerie Boroweic manages the physical health needs of students, supports all students with mental health concerns, and can provide drug intervention services.
Last spring, GHS received a grant from the Jeffco Innovation Acceleration Fund to open a school-based health center (SBHC) on the campus. This is a primary care clinic staffed by Metro Community Provider Network, including a full-time nurse practitioner and a mental health behavioral specialist. The SBHC will eventually be located outside of the school, near the gym.
The center will be open to all children, birth to age 21, in the Golden community. It will focus on prevention, early identification and treatment of students’ physical, mental health, and dental health.
GHS will have one of only four SBHCs in Jeffco Schools. Eventually Boroweic will partner with the MCPN staff to teach health education classes to GHS students.
GHS also takes students’ physical safety seriously.
“Over the past few years, we have moved from a ‘drill because we have to check it off the list’ mentality, to very intentional drills with detailed debriefing and communication with all stakeholders,” she explains. “Though it is impossible to plan for every contingency, our students do seem to understand that school safety is everyone’s responsibility and they respond appropriately.”
Carter noted that tools like Safe2Tell, launched in 2004 to “provide an anonymous venue for parents, students, teachers, school administrators, and law enforcement to share information,” are key to providing students with a safe and welcoming environment.
Preparing ‘functioning, responsible citizens’
Carter also stressed the importance of “preparing students to be functioning, responsible citizens who are able to think for themselves and communicate effectively.”
“High school should be a time for students to be exposed to different options” so they can investigate various interests, Carter explained. As a result, GHS has a responsibility to “do whatever possible to provide students with a variety of opportunities and resources.”
Students needing extra academic help can stop in one of the school’s content-specific tutoring centers during any of the seven class blocks. A teacher from each of the core subjects is always on site to help.
Recently, GHS expanded its STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, math) programming with another grant from the Jeffco Innovation Acceleration Fund. The school’s new “technical creative maker space” blends the STEAM disciplines together in a lab environment.
The maker space compliments the school’s STEAM diploma endorsement. The maker space and STEAM program provide a seamless transition from the iSTEM offerings at Bell Middle School, which feeds into GHS.
This year, GHS also added a Geometry in Construction class, which helps students see the relevance of geometry and how it matters in real world situations.
GHS prides itself on being a comprehensive neighborhood high school, Carter said.
“You don’t have to be a STEM kid, or any other particular type of kid, to attend GHS and feel like you fit in,” she said.
GHS offers an array of classes, including 19 Advanced Placement courses, up to 29 college credit hours through concurrent enrollment, and electives ranging from woodworking, metalworking and manufacturing to ceramics, photography, and even Pro Start culinary classes. Students who plan to take AP Calculus by senior year can take a geometry acceleration summer course to move a year ahead in the math track.
GHS also offers Senior Seminar, a second-semester, hands on, experiential education program that allows seniors to travel and apply their skills to real world scenarios. Started in 1972, Senior Seminar is a program that connects Golden Demons across generations.
Another GHS mainstay, Junior Rafting, started in 1969 and allows students to participate in a 3-4 day raft trip, learning about ecology, outdoor survival and local history.
GHS has many choices for students to get involved outside of classes, as well. From gaming and Spikeball to podcasts and drumline, there’s something for every student.
The recently formed Golden Wish Club gives back directly to the local community by partnering with nonprofits and raises funds to help grant a child their dream trip through Make A Wish.
The Golden Articulation Area also benefits from the support of the Golden Schools Foundation, a local non-profit that partners with organizations to promote local investment in Golden-area schools. Each summer, the Golden Schools Foundation runs an Advanced Placement Boot Camp for incoming GHS freshmen and first-time AP students.
Carter said she appreciates the many partnerships GHS has with area organizations, noting how fortunate GHS is to have a community like Golden supporting students, educators and learning.
Other schools in the Golden articulation area
Like GHS, each feeder schools also supports innovative thinking and individual student growth.
Bell Middle School becoming the first Colorado school to join the New Tech Network during the 2019-20 school year. The goal was to take the Project Based Learning (PBL) model of instruction — already well-known in iSTEM — and expand it school-wide to provide teachers access to a nationwide network of professional collaboration and learning. It also uses a rigorous, authentic learning model aligned to Jeffco Generations.
Here are a few highlights:
- consistently exceeded state achievement expectations on CMAS
- middle school winner of the Jeffco Library Summer Reading Program for the second year running
- offering the most comprehensive, competitive middle school iSTEM pathway in Jeffco, including two years of engineering along with well-rounded course offerings
- offers multiple electives including Jeffco’s most-recognized middle school orchestra program, choir, musical theater, band, art, Family and Consumer Studies, robotics, multi-media and broadcasting, yearbook class, computer applications, Spanish, physical education and exposure to both iSTEM and humanities for sixth grade students.
- SAMPLe team (social worker, art, music, PE, Librarian) offers expanded AMP time and focuses on Student Goal Setting
- school-wide learning challenges
- Aquaponics Program
- WIN (What I Need) time offers every student 20 minutes of daily personalized programming
- Genius Hour
- large-scale art installation entitled What Shapes Golden
- building a Little Library lending library
- Health and Wellness
- student-led Health Heroes
- Community Garden
- mindfulness program; Science Lab
- maker space
- Aquaponics Program