It’s not your typical high school. Though it is exactly that in many ways. Dozens of pennants with school names and mascots hang from the ceiling along the main hallway. Students wearing backpacks and masks chat and laugh as they make their way to class. Inspiration is painted on the walls: Do Something Real.
At Fred N. Thomas CEC Early College, doors that from the outside appear as regular classroom entryways open up into three dimensional worlds: a preschool, a restaurant, a hospital, a welding shop. On the second floor you’ll see those traditional lockers and classrooms, as well as a spacious and bustling library, but it’s the first floor where the Something Real happens.
CEC’s 482 full-time students spend half the day working on core high school subjects like math and social studies. They spend the other half pursuing one of 16 career pathways, from Advanced Manufacturing (think welding, pipefitting) to Medical Careers/Certified Nursing Assistant to Video Game Programming. Students are also getting a jump start on college or completing an associate degree. And they earn a variety of industry certifications on their way to graduating from high school.
There are another 156 part-time students making up CEC’s student body. These come from nearly every DPS high school and even some out-of-district schools. These schools are the ones proudly acknowledged in pennants adorning the main hallway. CEC’s campus is within walking distance from North High School. Its part-time students from further away have access to buses getting them to CEC or to one of 20+ concurrent enrollment classes at Community College of Denver.
Chef Joe Rivera, a former pastry chef at the Brown Palace, runs the portion of the Culinary Arts pathway geared toward preparing bakers. The pathway also leads to roles like manager, chef, restaurant owner, caterer, host and server. Rivera points to the ServSafe and ProStart certifications students earn, as well as to the 6.0 credits students earn toward Metro State University’s hospitality degree. COVID-19 has temporarily sidelined the public-facing aspect of CEC’s fully operational restaurant business, but a student-run coffee cart remains a popular in-house enterprise.
Down the way, tucked into the Teaching Careers wing of the building, is the CEC Early Learning Academy, a preschool serving 3-5 year-olds from the Jefferson Park neighborhood. Students in the Teaching Careers pathway have opportunities to support the center’s project-based learning curriculum and experience first-hand—via the center’s 12 very real preschoolers—what they’re learning about childhood development in a classroom down the hall. Molly Kerns, director of the preschool, points to the shortage of early childhood education providers statewide, knowing CEC’s students in this pathway are assured work.
And then there are the Film/Video Production students whose profile rose dramatically when their film was featured in the 44th Denver Film Festival last November. Document Ed., a 20-minute short documentary by teacher Alan Dominguez, follows CEC students as they chronicled the experiences of undocumented immigrants living in sanctuary (a legal protection afforded by dwelling in a hosted church). Dominguez’ attention had been caught by an intriguing statistic: why, in 2017, was Colorado—landlocked and far from any border—the state with the highest number of undocumented immigrants living in sanctuary? As students interviewed and filmed their subjects, parallels to their own lives were revealed. The CEC program’s access to cameras, computers, editing software, and Dominguez’ expertise and guidance allowed students to shine a spotlight on a uniquely Colorado story while also telling compelling stories of their own.
Kenia Abeyta, Communications Specialist at CEC Early College, points to CEC’s 98% graduation rate and a faculty with its own bragging rights. One has been at the school for 20 years, another broke barriers as a woman in the construction business, and several were CEC students themselves before launching into careers so successful they have been able to come back as teachers.
Abeyta hopes neighboring families will take note of what CEC offers. She thinks of the school as one of North Denver’s hidden gems and hopes more students and families will give it a serious look when Denver Public Schools’ SchoolChoice Round 1 window runs from Jan. 14 to Feb. 15.
SchoolChoice Round 1 Denver Public Schools According to DPS, “the Round 1 SchoolChoice window for 2022-23 is 10 a.m. Jan. 14 through 4 p.m. Feb. 15, 2022. To participate in SchoolChoice, families submit one SchoolChoice application per student, on which they rank their top schools in order of preference, up to a limit of 12. DPS then uses a computer algorithm that matches students to schools based on those preferences, as well as school admission priorities and available space. ” Families will need a SchoolChoice account to complete the application. A full list of DPS schools can be found online at dps.schoolmint.net/school-finder/home. Some North Denver DPS high schools: • Academy of Urban Learning DPS School Number: 488 • CEC Early College DPS School Number: 605 • Denver Montessori Junior/ Senior High School DPS School Number: 390, 514 • Denver North High School DPS School Number: 455 Complete SchoolChoice instructions and details can be found at schoolchoice.dpsk12.org.