For over a century the art deco structure of Steele Elementary has been the heart and soul of this community. Inside these walls are stories of triumph, friendships, love and above all, valuable educations. Now, more than ever, the teachers, staff and families need our support, so we spoke to Nisha Kanade Ashley and Jaime Peterson Livaditis, PTA presidents to discuss the current state of our beloved home school.
Steele Elementary has been a home away from home for Wash Park families since 1913. For those who may not be familiar, can you give us a glimpse of what this school means to the community?
Our school and the neighbor-hood are woven together. Steele is a place where we send our kids to learn and grow, but beyond that, our school represents friendship and connections be-tween families, teachers and staff. The parents enjoy talking about the weird things our kids do and check in on friends when they need support. We celebrate holidays together, we celebrate each other, we band together during the hard times, and that was never more evident than at the beginning of the pandemic. There is a real, authentic quality to our relationships with one another. We are family.
In years past, the school community has successfully raised much needed funds for educators and necessary programs with an annual Fall Fundraiser as well as the Wash Park Home Tour. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, these major fundraising events have been canceled. Both of you have stepped up to bring awareness to the financial needs of the school. Can you walk us through your ongoing efforts?
First, Steele would not be the premier elementary school that it is if it was not for the hard work and dedication of the parents and staff that came before us. They built our school to what it is today. With that being said, we are facing extremely unique challenges due to general budget cuts and the pandemic itself. Typically, we have amazing community events that bring our school together and visibly show our families why we are raising money. Without these community building events, it’s hard for newer families to recognize why we are so concerned with fundraising this year. We cannot host our typical fundraisers that bring our community together and that is devastating to us. For example, the Wash Park Home Tour, which is canceled, is run solely by Steele volunteers, and has been a huge community event for over 20 years. This year, we are facing the challenge of having to rely solely on direct donations and support from our community. We have started a campaign called “Steele Strong’’ where families and the community can donate directly at bit.ly/SteeleDonation. We aim for 100% participation from our parent community, with the idea that every gift is needed and appreciated.
Most people don’t realize that we have to raise money this school year, so it can be applied to next school year. Because of this, we have to fundraise now or Steele stands to lose the things that have made it one of the best schools in the district: our incredible homeroom teachers, drama, and full-time art, music and PE.
Steele Elementary may not have the funding to continue operating at current staff levels and may have to reduce or eliminate a portion of the specials programming (art, physical education, music and drama) that make the school especially unique. How can the community help?
It is important to us to explain exactly how much money we need and why our funding situation is so different this year. The PTA typically raises $200,000 annually primarily through events, and most of that money is donated back to Steele to fund paraprofessionals, our arts and drama programs, and increase our gifted and talented and special education programs. We do not receive enough funding from the district for these important programs. They happen through fund- raising. Along with that, the pandemic has forced families into situations where they needed to have a stable option of schooling and many chose to send their kids to private school temporarily. However, district funding is based on a per pupil count that is taken at the beginning of each school year. If there are kids returning to Steele from private or home school options, they were not accounted for and therefore, our school will not receive funding for those children. Therefore, we are at an additional deficit of $132,000. Unfortunately, this is not a unique situation to Steele or DPS, but a bigger issue with public education, and our kids deserve better.
The community can help by directly donating to our Steele Strong campaign. If our neighbors usually bought tickets to the Home Tour, are alumni of Steele, or just want to support a vital part of the Wash Park neighborhood, please consider making a donation. We are also reaching out to local businesses to invest in Steele through our sponsorship campaign. We are located in a beautiful and highly visible part of Denver, so sponsoring is an easy way to give back to our school while also advertising for your business. You can check out our sponsorship opportunities at http://www.steelepta.org/sponsors.html. If you know of a business that would like to support Steele or have questions or suggestions, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Steele has such a rich history, and during a recent cleaning, you stumbled upon some relics from the past. What treasures did you find?
Cleaning out the closet was so fun! We found old magazines and newspaper articles from the 1910’s regarding traffic concerns on Marion Parkway and Steele – before there were cars! Our favorite piece was a notebook detailing the very first PTA meeting minutes in beautiful cursive when the parents of Steele decided to start a PTA in 1913!! History does repeat itself and our community has been deeply committed to Steele for over 100 years!
On that note, we have created a new Steele Alumni facebook page for all alumni to join and reunite with old friends. We love to hear stories about our school and its history and we thought this would be fun! We also have a team of dedicated parents who are creating a community cookbook as a way to bring community together, raise money, and we would love neighborhood support with this endeavor!
When you’re not hard at work for your children’s beloved school. How do you spend your free time?
What’s free time? Just kidding! We both love to travel with our families, walk around the park listening to true crime podcasts, and we are lucky to not only be partners in our PTA, but we are also close friends, so we enjoy a glass of wine together on the front porch while our kids play!
It goes without saying, that Steele Elementary and the families it serves, deserve a fighting chance. If you have any history with this school, or simply enjoy walking by and hearing children in their happy place, please consider donating to bit.ly/SteeleDonation. With your help, Steele Elementary will continue to thrive with incredible educators, emphasis on art, drama, music and physical education. Thank you in advance for your help!