A group of Denver Public Schools alumni want to make a difference in the education that future students of the district receive.
“We want to help people dream bigger,” said TeRay Esquibel, executive director of Ednium: The Alumni Collective. “Now is a key moment in time for us to elevate the voice of the people we talk about, but rarely with.”
Ednium: The Alumni Collective is a new organization focused on improving educational outcomes in the DPS district, sourced directly from the lived experience of those who recently attended DPS.
“Ednium is a platform to elevate alumni,” said Esquibel, a 2011 graduate of Abraham Lincoln High School, which is in southwest Denver. “It’s built for those who feel their voice doesn’t matter. We already assume you’re brilliant, and have something to contribute.”
Ednium focuses on three areas of programming — the Data & Design Lab, the Leadership Launchpad and the Advocacy Accelerator.
The Data & Design Lab came first. It took place in summer 2019 and about 150 DPS alumni participated to evaluate two fundamental questions: 1) what is the knowledge you need in order to achieve your definition of success, and 2) what tools do you need to be able to achieve your definition of success?
All the data was analyzed and drafted into a document that was presented to then-DPS Superintendent Susana Cordova and her leadership team, who then also realized the importance of having recent alumni voices represented in the conversations around educational decisions, Esquibel said.
In spring 2020, the first Leadership Launchpad took place, focusing on three fundamentals — the alumni wanted to be seen and heard, they wanted to gain respect and credibility and they wanted to make an impact. The program lasted three months, and during that time, a number of meetings with community leaders took place. The group also worked on a capstone project that entailed taking each of their lived experiences to come up with an idea that would make a difference.
Sometimes these conversations are tough, but they’re important, said Stephanie López, a 2009 graduate of Denver East High School, who has been involved with Ednium since its beginning.
“We want to make sure the next generation has the tools, knowledge and resources they need for their success,” López said, “whatever that success may be for them.”
For example, he said, “you might be the only person of color in the executive boardroom. But, on the other hand, you might be the only person from your community who went to college.”
Ednium narrowed down all the ideas to two main issues they would begin to tackle — additional financial literacy in education, and the lack of education concerning cultural and ethnic studies, particularly on a local level — and the Advocacy Accelerator got its start in July 2020.
Those involved with the Advocacy Accelerator “further define projects and initiatives, build support and begin implementation,” states a news release. The current goal is to implement financial literacy and cultural and ethnic studies to be graduation requirements for DPS students by 2023.
Financial literacy “is an essential skill to be a contributing member of society,” Esquibel said. Yet, he added, it’s one of the skills that many recent graduates were lacking, especially so among those whose families may not have had a lot of financial gains when they were in high school.
Employers are looking for people who have cultural competency, and universities value it, said Richard Maez, a 2011 graduate of southwest Denver’s John F. Kennedy High School.
“We’re in a time when these conversations are being had — the current students are living it,” said Maez, who has been involved with Ednium since its beginning. “We need to give students the language and tools to be able to talk about racism, discrimination, stereotyping and prejudice, and open their their eyes to the histories that are yet to be taught.”
Ednium is already making progress on its first two initiatives — a group spoke at a December Board of Education meeting and relayed their own struggles surrounding the lack of instruction on financial literacy and cultural and ethnic studies.
López believes today’s students do care about, and are invested in, the quality of education they receive.
“The younger generation, nationwide, wants an equitable future for themselves and their children,” López said.
In fact, she added, it’s evident that local students care. One example is the student-initiated Know Justice, Know Peace Resolution. The resolution “seeks to add comprehensive historical and contemporary contributions of Black, Indigenous and Latino communities to K-12 curriculum throughout DPS,” states a news release. The DPS Board of Directors adopted it in October, but it was a group of students who attend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Early College, which is in northeast Denver, who introduced and advocated it.
Ednium does not exist to be a negative critic of DPS, López said.
“It’s to acknowledge what has gone wrong in the past, but also, to build on the things that have been done well,” she said. “Because there is both.”
Ednium is a grassroots organization that brings additional value to school board decisions, Maez added. This, in turn, truly makes a difference for the students of the future, and Denver overall, he added.
“As alumni, we feel a deep connection to our city. And our city can’t be successful without all of the components, which includes a successful school system,” Maez said. “Ednium provides a voice and an engine for alumni to engage with the school district that helped shape who we are today.”