Campus & Community

Public Achievement program pairs area youth with DU ‘coaches’

Youth in Denver Public Schools are working to make an impact on issues that matter to them — from gang violence to teen pregnancy to the desire to have off-campus lunches — under the guidance of University of Denver community members who function as coaches.

Through the DU Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning’s (CCESL) Public Achievement program, K-12 students work with DU student coaches to identify issues they care about within the school and the community. Forty-nine DU coaches work with nearly 400 DPS students.

These teams work together for an academic year to conduct community-based research and carry out a service-learning project to address the issue they identified.

The Public Achievement organizing model was created in 1990 by the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.

Today, Public Achievement is used in schools and communities in several states and around the world in such places as Turkey, South Africa, Ireland and Israel.

In 2003, DU became the first university west of the Mississippi to launch the program with a group of 50 students and eight DU coaches at Cole Middle School.

“We found that there was a real hunger among Denver Public Schools for collaborative programs that would help align with positive reform efforts district-wide,” says Frank Coyne, CCESL associate director.

Today, DU’s program includes North High School, Highline Academy, Bruce Randolph School, Manual High School, Ellis Elementary and Merrill Middle School. Depending on the school, students participate in the program through a required class or through an extra-curricular activity.

Each fall, the students, teachers and coaches work together to brainstorm and decide which issues to address over the coming year. The teams then conduct community-based research on the topic, develop and present a plan, and implement the project.

Projects have included the creation of a traveling community mural about racism and gang violence, the organization of an overnight trip to motivate students and improve school morale, and the re-establishment of a school newspaper.

DU student coaches, who undergo extensive training, typically work with their schools one day a week for three to six hours. Some coaches receive compensation for their time through the Community Work Study program or through AmeriCorps.

Through their involvement, coaches learn about leadership and develop close relationships with the students.

Senior Charla Agnoletti, a DU sociology and Spanish major, began coaching during her freshman year.

“This experience has given me a huge sense of purpose to be doing something for others,” she says. “It’s powerful to see the process that students go through as they transform from being very quiet to being outgoing and empowered to achieve.”

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