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Jeffco Schools

Rose Stein Elementary eager to prepare more students for the future

In its first year, school less than half-full


Rose Stein Elementary is not a quiet school.

Walk its halls and you can hear students working on projects in the library or hallways, teachers giving guidance, and maybe even a community member heading to Melissa Alvarez's office to pick up some food or school supplies.

And that's the way Principal Ester Valdez wants it.

“As one of only two International Baccalaureate (IB) elementary schools in Jeffco, the learning experience of our students is based on inquiry,” Valdez said. “We want our students to use phrases like `What if?' and `I wonder…'”

Lakewood's newest elementary school, located at 80 S. Teller St., isn't actually a new school. It was originally called Stein Elementary, until it closed in 2014 because of overcrowding. In the spring of 2014, the school district approved a $1.1 million plan to combine Alameda's International Baccalaureate (IB) program with O'Connell's IB Middle Years program, creating a 7-12 school at Alameda, moving Stein students to O'Connell and emptying Stein.

The school underwent a $3.4 million construction and renovation project: including new windows and doors, LED lighting throughout the building, a new playground, and new paint and carpet.

On Aug. 16 of last year, the school reopened its doors to the neighborhood and wider community.

“We live nearby, and our son went here before the school was closed, and he had to go to Emory Elementary,” said Dominic Duran. “When we heard it was an all-new staff, are using the IB, and have new music programs, we knew he should come back to the school.”

Dominic and his wife, Melissa, brought their son back to the school when it reopened in the fall. And Valdez and the rest of her 30-person staff, as well as current student families, are all hoping more people will be like the Durans, and give Rose Stein a try.

“Our budget is driven by enrollment, and we have about 210 students in a facility that can house closer to 500,” Valdez said. “We want to become an extension of the community and be a hub for those in need.”

As a Title I school, many of the families have a variety of financial and other support needs. To assist, Alvarez, who is the school's family liaison, opens up her office during the day to provide access to a food pantry, school supplies, and even clothing.

“We also prepare food bags for the children who need things to eat over the weekend,” she said. “We also do more fun things, like put together birthday bags for students, that gives them and their parents everything the need to make a cake, as well as a gift or two.

Alvarez can also connect families with community organizations like the Foodbank of the Rockies and Jefferson Center for Mental Health for other services.

There are many reasons Steven Wallin sent his great granddaughter to Rose Stein when it reopened, and one of them is the access to a top-notch education, as well as any other help she or he could make use of, all in one place.

“Staff here is so great about reaching out to see how she's doing, to see if there's anything I need help with, and to remind me of events they having coming,” Wallin added. “When she wakes up, she is actually excited about going to school.”

Rose Stein is looking at innovative ways to teach its students. The school hasn't been open for a full year yet, and already has launched an award-winning robotics team, is making music - what Valdez calls the “universal language” - mandatory for 100 percent of fifth and sixth graders, and a commitment to ensuring all students are bilingual.

Valdez estimates about 50 percent of the students at the school speak another language - mainly Spanish, but also Vietnamese and Arabic.

“At the school my two kids went to before coming here, they were bullied a lot,” said Maria Garcia, who only speaks Spanish. “Now, we all see how the school system can work. Both me and my kids like everything about the school now.”

In his March 8 State of the City speech, Mayor Adam Paul highlighted the work Valdez is doing at Rose Stein.

“Ester has engaged mentors and volunteers, created an on-site medical clinic and community garden,” he said. “Her boldness to bring this school back to life has reconnected Rose Stein to the neighborhood.”

And while the city-wide attention is exciting, for the families who send their children at the school, it's the day to day accomplishments that make Rose Stein the best place to prepare for the future.

“It's the staff and people here who spend so much time on our kids,” Melissa concluded. “It's not just a job for anyone here. They all actually care.”


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