DENVER (KDVR) — Education is done a bit differently in one school in Denver’s Montbello neighborhood.

Academy 360 is a charter school with just over 200 students. Its focus is serving “the whole child.” It’s a unique approach, basically meaning that students’ education and life outcomes are pretty much dependent upon their access to safe and welcoming learning environments. This is kind of ironic, because this school is in an old office building.

But once you step inside, regardless of age or race, you end up learning a lot.

As we share our stories during Black History Month, we’d also like to share a quote from Malcolm X, in part, that “education is the passport to the future.” If true, you don’t have to travel out of the country to find the promising future, led by these preschool through fifth graders at Academy 360.

“Since spring of 2020, and the pandemic, really recognizing we need more, our students need more,” said the school’s director, Becky McLean. “And so really thinking about we have all this community that comes to our students, in their homes and with their families. Why wouldn’t we bring them into our classrooms?”

Which is why — along with academics — the charter school’s mission centers on health and wellness, using diversity as a means of reaching and teaching.

Once taboo, mental health now a focus

“We’ve got kids and parents getting mental health who wouldn’t do it before,” Ron Allen said. He is the family therapist and social-emotional specialist who works at the school, as it works to find innovative ways to bring community members of color into the classroom to mirror the student population.

“Mental health is real. Mental health is something that was taboo to African Americans, especially being from Louisiana, and now to be a part of a therapist and teaching mental health, and kids trusting in it,” he added.

A few years ago, Allen was preparing to leave the school, and then something happened.    

“Every time I say I’m done, I have some kid remind me that I’m not done in this community, remind me I’m not done over 20 years, and I’m still not done helping kids, helping families,” Allen said.

FOX31 also spoke with students about Allen while at the school.

“He’s helped the school by calming people down. He’s helped them by like, help letting them express their feelings,” 10-year-old student Kyler Harris said, adding it’s learning re-imagined here.

Guiding students through all aspects of life

Academy 360 is focused on teaching the entire child, not just academically speaking, but also emotionally. They’re located in an office building in Montbello, but inside the building are foundations that are deeply rooted in the community. They actually come inside of the classroom to teach these students.   

“It’s like sometimes you’ll go in class and you’ll see a student sleep. A teacher may wonder, why is he sleep? Why? Does he get sleep at night? Well, he may be raised in a home that’s argumentative and all night, and he couldn’t get any sleep,” explained Joel Hodge, or “Coach Eye,” as he’s called.

He is the co-founder of the Struggle of Love Foundation, located in the same building as the school. He often speaks to students who need guidance navigating issues in the classroom, society and even at home. He was molested between the ages of 8-10 years old. He also began experimenting with drugs before the age of 18, which resulted in a stent placement for his heart. Hodge was also shot.

“It’s a fortunate thing that all of us haven’t had these negative experiences that were placed upon me, and I don’t know why, and maybe this is the reason why, right? So I can go out and reach a child that may be unreachable to everybody else,” Hodge said.

Last school year, 63% of the students were on grade level for reading proficiency. Over two-thirds of the entire student body made over one-and-a-half years of literacy growth. But it’s clear that the small learning community is making big strides in and out of the classroom.