Magazine Feature / People

Alum creates diversity at Denver Public School center

Dan Lutz (PhD ’92) says his passion for international education started at his childhood dining table.

“My father was a minister and he was passionate about international missionary work,” recalls Lutz. “When I was little, we had people from all over the world sitting at our dining table talking about their cultures. I was mesmerized.”

Today, Lutz is principal of the Denver Center for International Studies, a Denver Public Schools (DPS) magnet school. The program itself has been through several metamorphoses, many mirroring Lutz’s own career and opportunities that appeared at precisely the right time.

Lutz earned a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Colorado and then taught for two years in Afghanistan.

“I went there thinking, ‘I’ll help these people,’ and I came away realizing how much I had to learn,” he says. “It deeply affected my own philosophy of learning.”

Returning to Denver, Lutz taught English with DPS. He also attended graduate workshops at the University of Denver’s Center for Teaching International Relations.

Then, in 1985, he heard that DPS had received a grant to start a Center for International Studies. Using a curriculum he had already developed during his graduate studies, Lutz helped create the school and became its principal.

When it opened, the center was a program at West High School and included 19 students.  It ultimately grew to 250 students before Lutz realized that it could better serve the district as a stand-alone school. Today, the center serves 410 students from a building at 574 West Sixth Avenue in Denver.

The center enrolls students in grades 6 through 12 and offers classes in Chinese, French, Italian, Japanese and Spanish. Students who complete courses in five specialized areas, such as World Geography and Comparative Governments, earn a Diploma of International Studies. Faculty and staff actively seek international travel opportunities for all students and even raise funds for those from low-income families.

DU alumna Heidi Hursh, (PhD ’01), a former DU instructor, has taught at the center since 1990. “It has been Dan’s vision and hard work over the past 20 years that have made [the center] a model for similar programs in the Denver area and nationwide,” she says.

Lutz says that the center’s greatest assets are also its greatest challenges.

“We purposely create a very diverse student body,” he explains. “That creates exactly the tension that we want our students to ultimately thrive in. With so much conflict in the world today, I hope that our students can contribute to better cross-cultural understanding.”

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