Arvada hasn’t always been a small school. The museum in the front lobby is proof enough that this school once flourished and thrived with a student body count in the thousands. In recent years however, Arvada has been suffering from a gradual decline in enrollment and the effects are starting to show.
According to Assistant Principal Molly Jordan, enrollment has been on a decline for about 10 years. Attendance from around that time placed Arvada at around twenty-two hundred, but now the school’s at a little less than eight hundred.
What started this downtrend remains unclear. It could be the choice enrollment that pulls the kids from feeder schools to other high schools in the Arvada area such as Pomona or Arvada West. It could also be the widely spread belief that the school is one for delinquents and ne’er-do-wells. With social media being a popular outlet nowadays, there is more emphasis on all the negative events that have occurred.
“Arvada High School has gotten a reputation, at least within Jefferson County, as being sort of a rough school. Some of that’s deserved and some of it is not, but that’s our reputation and you have to be honest about that,” said science teacher Joe Ventola.
Based on the October student count, fewer students also means that school funding from the district is reduced. As a result, classes and programs are being cut as a form of compensation and with less classes being offered next year, some teachers are also losing their positions. Spanish teacher Rita Robinson is just one of the staff members who’s contract with the school will not be renewed at the end of the school year.
“It’s very scary. I want to be here. This is where my heart is,” said Robinson. “I’m going through some fears, some anxieties. It’s been tough because I don’t want to leave and so it’s been hard to prepare for interviews and be enthusiastic. I still want to be here.”
Fewer classes means fewer opportunities. It’s not just Robinson who is being forced to say goodbye. Part-time math teacher Barbara Steward’s contract will also not be renewed at the end of the year.
“I am saddened to be let go by that department because I loved my time in the math department,” said Steward.
Since the origin of the decline is unknown, trying to discover a solution has proved equally challenging. Teachers and administration alike each have their own ideas as to what could stop this trend in its tracks and at the same time, bring in more students.
“We have a really strong Fine Arts program so I think we need to use that to our advantage to promote better. All of the teachers involved with music are really passionate about what they do,” said Steward. “The students involved with music are also really passionate about what they do so that’s a good community within our school that shows what we have to offer.”
However, the problem may not be as simple as a decrease in enrollment and the answer may not be as easy promoting the arts program. It’s a bigger matter of how Arvada can convince parents to allow their child to go this particular school above all others.
“The decision makers are not us, who love this school. The decision-makers are the parents and fourth and fifth grade that are deciding what school they’re high schooler goes to when they’re eight,” said Jordan.
Through this process of redesigning, staff and students should also be aware of trying to do too much too quickly. It’s a complicated process that starts with establishing what the school’s main purpose should be when hiring new teachers and accepting new students.
“The emphasis needs to be on the fact that the school exists to teach the students and the students’ job is to learn something and I think we’ve lost that focus,” said Ventola. “We need to restore that focus.”
There is still hope for Arvada to grow and flourish as long as everyone in the building continues to do all that they can to make sure that the school maintains its positive and creative environment in the classroom and in extracurricular activities.
“I think we need to have really high expectations for our kids, for both behavior and academics, and the best path is to really have a lot of opportunities so all of our students have somewhere that they can feel successful,” said Rivas.