- Cherry Creek School District No. 5
Summer Leadership Academy students celebrate with transition ceremony
As students in the Summer Leadership Academy reflected on what the program meant to them at their recent transition ceremony, students shared similar stories of hope, inspiration, and the desire to be their best selves.
This past summer, Cherry Creek Schools students and staff came together for the second year of the Summer Leadership Academy (SLA), a program launched to create community among students and invite them to help find solutions to gun violence in the Denver and Aurora communities. This month, those students participated in a transition ceremony to honor their journey to the next level.
“You are being called to a higher level of leadership,” said Jasper Armstrong to the students. “You are about to be the leaders I know you all can be.”
Armstrong has led the Summer Leadership Academy for the past two years and has worked with students for almost twenty years. He continues to feel awe at the connection and changes in the students he has seen in the program. Students in the SLA are given opportunities to grow their conflict resolution and communication skills and learn strategies to help them make better decisions. The students in the program have faced significant challenges, including loss of secure housing, financial barriers, and gang activity, but continue to make the program a priority because of the positive impact it has on their lives.
During the ceremony, students were invited to share what this program has meant to them.
“This program means greatness to me,” said Justified Joseph.* “When I walked in and realized how important we are to the community, I began to hold myself to a higher standard.”
“This program means family,” said Lovely Leana, “It lets me share ideas on how to be successful in life.”
“I had a lot of absences,” said Awesome Andy. “This program helped me by showing me what true caring and community means. My classmates are there to push me up, and we have each other’s back.”
“This program helped me find my voice,” said Ambitious and Authentic Aaliyah. “It helped me become more confident and helped me improve my grades and attendance.”
Students in the program heard from district leaders as well as members of the community, who shared words of wisdom, affirmations, and hopes for the future. Angela Garland, who sits on the Board of Education as well as the Cherry Creek Schools Foundation Board, told students that she believes their voices matter and that she hopes to see one of them run for the Cherry Creek Schools Board of Education one day. The Cherry Creek Schools Foundation was a major funder of the program and Garland recalled being part of the discussions when the program was still in its infancy.
Kanye Herron, a recent graduate of Endeavor Academy and a key voice in bringing the Summer Leadership Academy to life, gave students his advice to keep pushing and fighting for what they believe in.
“I don’t know what you’ve been through,” Herron said. “But no matter what anyone tells you, keep pushing. We are here to support you. When they asked me what I wanted out of this program, I said: ‘I want them to feel loved.’”
Students were given lanyards to mark their transition and heard from Donna Chrisjohn, who is a member of the Denver American Indian Commission and an Indigenous education consultant. Chrisjohn shared that in tribal traditions, gifts are given as part of cultural celebrations to build relationships and honor knowledge.
“As you wear these lanyards, you honor yourself and your Leadership community,” said Chrisjohn. Students in the original cohort were given yellow lanyards to represent generosity and their next phase of becoming leaders to the next group of students. Students in the most recent cohort were given white lanyards to represent wisdom.
The keynote speaker was Polica Houston, Vice President of Programs at Big Brothers Big Sisters, who was a teacher for several years. He shared stories of his childhood, including a high school party he was forbidden from attending where his friend was shot and killed.
“Your life can change in an instant,” Houston shared. “Your time is now to show your brilliance and to transform from being a percentage to a person. You will be brilliant because that’s what you are.”
*Everyone in the SLA is referred to by a nickname or “handle” that they use as a way to build community and connection and emphasize positive traits.