LITTLETON, Colo. — Parents are calling for drastic changes at Arapahoe High School in Littleton after a string of student suicides and the recent arrests of two teachers accused of sexually assaulting students.
Allie Hanson graduated from Arapahoe High in 2015 after a difficult four years there. She says she tried to commit suicide five times, once inside the school.
“I swallowed 80 pills. It was rough. I was getting bullied in the school,” she said.
Allie was also just down the hall in 2013 when an armed student opened fire murdering 17 year-old Claire Davis.
“I think it took me about a year before I could be around a loud banging noise without flinching and starting to cry,” she said.
Hanson says bullying was a big problem inside the school then, and many parents say little has changed.
“Since Claire Davis’ murder on campus, things have gotten measurably worse,” said Jessica Peck, an attorney representing a coalition of parents and former students demanding big changes.
The Arapahoe Community coalition is asking for Natalie Promenko to be removed as principal. The coalition has also launched a survey, asking parents to share their concerns surrounding the school. The coalition has already received more than 900 responses.
“Time is up. There’s not more patience for the ‘trust us’ message,” said Peck. “There’s a certain point in any community where you have to say we know you tried but we need to have a fresh voice, a fresh mind in there.”
Allie Hanson says that is a big first step to changing culture and ensuring the mental health of students is just as important as their education.
“At some point you need to realize their mental health is more important. You can’t focus on your education if your mental health isn’t ok,” said Hanson.
There are parents and students who do not feel school administration is the problem.
Principal Natalie Pramenko sent parents a two page letter addressing concerns at the school and the creation of a coalition. You can read that letter below.
Pramenko declined our request for an interview.
Dear Arapahoe High School Students, Parents, Faculty and Staff,
I am writing this letter to address several issues impacting our school community. I am aware there are concerns about substance abuse, suicide, employee misconduct and school culture at Arapahoe High School. An anonymous group has created and distributed a survey raising questions about how we are dealing with many of the challenges our families and students face in today’s world. Others have reached out to our superintendent, Brian Ewert, members of the LPS Board of Education, and to my direct supervisor, Clay Abla.
I want to be very clear that I too share these serious concerns. I am personally and professionally devastated and angry about the recent unlawful behavior of two Arapahoe employees that put students at risk, despite a thorough district and state level (Colorado Bureau of Investigation) process vetting each candidate prior to hire.
Being a parent of a teenager in today’s world is difficult, and I know this as a parent myself. I worry the use of vape pens, drugs, alcohol, and other harmful substances is increasing among teens. I am deeply troubled by the dramatic increase in the number of teen lives that have been lost to suicide, especially those here at Arapahoe and in neighboring schools in our community.
While I know these issues are not specific to Arapahoe and are endemic in schools across the country, what matters most to me is how these issues affect Arapahoe and how we are going to continue to address them. We have had these conversations over the past few years and put in place several great programs such as our TRIBE advisory groups and Sources of Strength. These two programs specifically connect students with caring adults in our school.
Following the shooting in 2013, we called on national experts to help improve our district threat assessment process. Every concern regarding threatening behavior is investigated thoroughly, and appropriate measures are taken to ensure the safety of students. In cooperation with our Arapahoe County School Resource Officers, we have hosted several events to address and educate parents about substance abuse as well as suicide prevention and awareness. I will continue to provide these opportunities to our community in the new school year. If you have not had the opportunity to attend one of these events, I encourage you to do so. These experts have provided great resources and insightful advice to parents. While these measures have been steps in the right direction, we need to do more, together. With this, I need your help.
Moving forward, I will be doing more to tackle these tough issues to strengthen our community. A task force that includes students, parents, faculty, staff members, and community members will be established to dive more deeply into issues of mental health, suicide, social media, substance abuse, and school culture. We will work closely with Dr. Anna Mueller, sociologist and professor from the University of Chicago. Dr. Mueller, at the invitation of LPS, is currently conducting research in the broader LPS community related to social worlds and youth well-being. Future communications will invite you to be a part of this work.
At the beginning of this school year, my administrative team and I asked every Arapahoe teacher to define their “why?” for becoming a teacher. Not only did they define it, they shared it with many of you at back to school night last fall, and you will see it posted outside their doors to the classrooms. When I look back on my formal schooling, I remember those who made a positive impact on my life and who helped shape me into the person I am. I became a teacher, a coach, a sponsor, and ultimately an administrator to make a positive difference in the lives of students, and with the teachers who work with them every day. It is an honor to give back to this sacred profession. The very best part of my day is talking to students in the halls, in the cafeteria, and wherever they gather. I love hearing what’s on their minds, what they are looking forward to, and what they worry about. I love our students very much, and I care deeply about their well being and their futures. I feel grateful every day to come to work at Arapahoe High School.
Arapahoe is a truly unique high school with a tradition and spirit that transcends a very long and proud history. On the first page of the 1964 Calumet (our first yearbook), you will read the words from our very first Warriors, “Our spirit is proud, and we are ready to accept any challenge in order to make the history of Arapahoe High School a glorious one.” It is our collective obligation to perpetuate the proud tradition of this beautiful high school.
I invite parents to visit the school, take a tour with me, and share your thoughts. Your voice matters to me. I am making these one-on-one conversations a top priority in the weeks to come. Please contact my assistant, Amanda Clark, at 303-347-6023 to schedule time with me.
It is truly an honor to serve as your principal, and I look forward to connecting with you soon.
Arapahoe High School