Learners Come Knocking on Opportunitues Door
With a handful of teachers, a soup kettle for student suppers, and a condemned building for classes, a Denver schoolteacher, Emily Griffith, began in 1916 what has become "a magic place" for thousands seeking the American Dream on slim resources.
Ms. Griffith put into action her belief that education should be available to anyone who wants it. She convinced the city to let her use a dilapidated elementary school to teach English lessons and such subjects as horseshoeing and millinery to European immigrants and local residents seeking a better life.
Today, the Emily Griffith Opportunity School occupies the same plot of land in downtown Denver. But a more substantial building--one whose facade boasts the word "Opportunity" in bold capital letters--testifies to the success of its founder's idea.
Some 1.4 million students have taken advantage of such courses as English as a second language, auto mechanics, real estate, and watch repair at the "Op School," as it is sometimes called. It is operated now by the Denver Public Schools--with an annual budget of about $8.25 million.
The 35,000 students enrolled this year come from 54 foreign countries as well as Denver and its surrounding county. They participate in any number of the school's 300 courses, including the only courses for furriers in the Western United States.
"I don't think there could be another place in the country like this," says Ralph S. Latimer, a spokesman for the school. "It's a magic place. It's a school where all of a sudden there's a second chance in life."
Tuition is free for Denver residents, who pay about $15 per class for books and materials. Nonresidents pay $4.50 per hour for nonvocational courses and $360 per semester for vocational courses.
Open 14 hours a day, five days a week, 11 months a year, the school runs on an open-entry, open-exit system, with students proceeding at their own pace. It also serves as a testing center for the ged high-school-equivalency test and offers preparatory classes for the exam.
The school's 600 teachers are drawn from Denver business and industry and from the local public schools. They receive between $17 and $18 an hour but, according to Mr. Latimer, most are there because "they simply want to share their experience and knowledge with students."
Ms. Griffith, who died in 1956, would undoubtedly approve of the variety in age, background, and purpose represented by current students. They include a retired Denver district judge enrolled in an auto-mechanics class and a Franciscan monk learning to make shoes.