5280 Freedom School in Five Point aims to become Denver charter school

DENVER (KDVR) — Right now, there’s a summer camp taking place in Denver that focuses on the Black experience, educating children on topics you might not see in the textbook.

FOX31 visited the 5280 Freedom School in the Five Points neighborhood on Tuesday afternoon to learn more about its history and hopes of expanding.

The summer camp is named after Denver’s chapter of Black Lives Matter and started in 2018 with 14 kids attending the camp for half-days for one week. Now, in 2022, it’s grown to more than 60 children and has a waitlist to attend. This year’s two-week camp started on Monday, July 11, and runs until July 22.

Program Director Marissa Chandler explains the summer camp as an experience of passion, acceptance and education.

“They love it,” Chandler said. “To bring Black children together, especially in areas where they don’t really have these kinds of spaces, and to provide them with education that they’re not going to get at school. It’s a space to be themselves and to explore their identities and to be free of racism. We make them feel love and seen.”

Kids’ camp is tailored to Black culture

The summer camp is tailored to Black culture — everything from literature to history to art and embracing natural hair. 5280 Freedom School teaches children to celebrate their differences and understand diversity. Each summer, rising kindergarteners to ninth-graders get a unique learning experience packed with field trips, life skills and the chance to be surrounded by kids who share similar stories.

Branta Lockett, the executive director of 5280 Freedom School, is also a teacher at the camp and teaches literacy, step class and gardening.

“A lot of them are like one of few or one of the only Black students in their school, similar for the teachers,” Lockett shared. “I used to be the only Black teacher in the building, so coming to a space like this is inspiring and refreshing.”

Another unique aspect of the summer camp is that it’s free to all children who attend. School leaders fundraise and receive donations and grants to make it happen, sharing with FOX31 that they don’t want money to be a barrier.

Lockett said the community support for the school and summer camp has been amazing and they’re working to expand and become a full charter school within Denver Public Schools, but they have hit a speed bump.

“We have come against some obstacles, but we’re pushing through,” Lockett said.

5280 Freedom School to appeal charter-school rejection

Earlier this year, 5280 Freedom School applied to become a charter school, but the board voted to deny the school’s application. The superintendent stated in the application: “It’s not in the interests of the pupils, district or community.”

The application also states, “The Superintendent concludes that the application does not meet the quality threshold of the Charter Schools Act and the DPS approval criteria as stated in the district’s published application, and therefore is recommending denial of the application.”

One reason cited in the DPS memo was fears of low enrollment as the district has been dealing with declining enrollment over the last few years. 5280 Freedom School was one of three charter schools denied this year.

“Families and students were like, ‘We want this more,’” Lockett said. “Two weeks in the summer is not enough.”

Although the application was denied by the board, Chandler told FOX31 they’re pushing forward and will be filing an appeal with the state Board of Education.

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