By Anna Alejo

AURORA, Colo. (CBS4)– Young people are taking steps to protect each other as violence grows in their communities. Students – who say their greatest concern is staying safe outside their homes – are spending the summer building skills educators hope will enable them to change the future.

(credit: CBS)

Cherry Creek Schools Summer Leadership Academy is teaching critical thinking, goal setting, and time management.

Students helped design the program when the district’s leadership wanted to do something after 15-year-old Christian Lopez was killed near Overland High School on March 11.

Jay Dreger is a student there.

Dreger said, “I’m learning a lot about leadership and communication and how to work on myself and focus on myself and impact people in a positive way.”

Student Isabell Zavala also attends Overland and knew Lopez.

“It was sad sitting in class. He sat right next to me it was just sad to know that we lost someone from our school,” Zavala said. “I want to influence my generation and the younger generation just to be better.”

(credit: CBS)

Cherry Creek Schools Assistant Superintendent for Equity, Culture and Community Engagement Michael Giles credits students for their honesty in sharing what they needed to drive change.

He said, “We went right to our student leadership group and said ‘what are you seeing’? What are you hearing? How can we support you? What’s our role in providing safe spaces for you?”

Academy Director Jasper Armstrong says he went to principals from the Smoky Hill and Overland feeder areas and said, “Send me the kids who can run your building. The students who have ‘it.’”

Armstrong shared, “What if I can teach you how to take a deep breath before you make a critical decision? What if I can teach you how to set goals and manage your time so that you don’t find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time?”

The Cherry Creek schools Foundation stepped up, so did area businesses – and the goal is for every participant to land a job this summer doing something they find interesting.

Then when school starts up again – academy participants will serve as a “think tank” on how to create safer school communities.

Jay Dreger says he’s doing it for his younger brother, “I’m the biggest role model in his life because we grew up with no dad so he looks up to me a lot. And he follows after me.”

(credit: CBS)

Armstrong added, “There’s an offer being made by the streets, and if we don’t offer something equal to or greater here in the education system, we could lose them.”

Anna Alejo