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Southwest Denver’s oldest school looks forward

Barnum Elementray is putting students and community first with the help of the Imaginarium


It’s a place whose history began when famed showman P.T. Barnum bought hundreds of acres of land in 1878. It’s a place that’s about 79
percent Latino. It’s a place where mud— endearingly — is a symbol for the community.

In the storied neighborhood of Bar-num, Barnum Elementary School, the oldest school in the southwest Denver region of Denver Public Schools, is bringing kids up to be emotionally aware and to learn in their own ways. “Once you’re here, you just want to be here,” said Beth Vinson, principal at Barnum, which was built in 1921 according to its website. “I never feel like I don’t want to come to work.” Sticky, poorly drained soil made mud a symbol of the Barnum neigh-borhood community in its early days, Vinson said. “If you stick with Barnum, Barnum will stick with you,” Vinson said, reciting a neighborhood motto. And the keenly communal school embodies that, an environment where teachers build close bonds, engage in personalized learning and even tackle institutional race issues.

Getting to know students
Teachers are “trying to get to the level of getting to know the students,” said Danielle Quinones, 33, a parapro-fessional and parent of two current and two former Barnum students.“And if you like this, or don’t like this, let’s try it this way.” Quinones said the teachers know the needs of almost every student in their class, “and if they don’t, they fi nd out.” Two school years ago, Barnum be-gan a personalized learning initiative, said Haleh Torbaghan, 31, a teacher who’s in her sixth year at the school.