Over the past 30 years, Mr. Simmons has worked closely with community organizations with an emphasis on youth leadership. He is the co-founder of the Metropolitan Mayors and Commissioners Youth Awards which celebrated 25 years of youth recognition of volunteer service to families and communities. He currently serves as Denver Public Schools Community Specialist. His role is to bridge relationships between diverse communities and the school district; increase parent engagement; and provide leadership opportunities for student engagement.
The community express in no uncompromising terms that Manual High School, a pillar in the neighborhood, could not close. Although low test scores and infrequent attendance forced the district’s hand to close the school, it was important to continue having dialogue and develop a collaborative plan that would serve the community and the district. Mr. Simmons immediately realized that the voices of youth were not being acknowledged. He initiated focus groups with youth leaders within and outside Manual High School. Students were able to serve on the community board to help developed a plan to reopen Manual High School. In addition, Mr. Simmons established the Manual Ambassadors Project to help displaced students affected by the school closure.
The Manual Ambassadors Project was incredible. Former Manual High School student volunteers established relationships with student leaders of receiving schools and developed a navigation process to assist students acclimate to their new school assignments. Ambassadors distributed and collected satisfaction surveys to help the school district better serve their displaced students. Through their efforts, an education resource center was provided to help student with their lessons and personal concerns. Mr. Simmons assisted the students in developing a final report to share with the School Board of Education and senior staff on the key protocols that should be implemented for future school closures.
The ability to engage young people is a special gift. As we know, young folk have problem trusting anyone over 25 years old. It is also important to mention that young people have special gifts which deepen the conversations regarding inequity and fairness. Mr. Simmons was able to bring angry youth to the table and create opportunities for authentic dialogue. The results of his work generated youth recognitions at the annual Martin Luther King’s Civil Rights Awards ceremony. The ambassadors became the eyes and ears of the superintendent. Finally, re-enforce the idea that youth voices continue to be an incredible change agent for solving colossal problems.