GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - At the end of a five-week summer school program, 210 Glenwood Springs youngsters celebrated with dance performances, an academic awards ceremony and a few tears.
"So many children were crying today," said program sponsor Terri Caine on Friday. "They were sad because the program was over."
Summer Advantage USA made its debut in the Roaring Fork Valley this summer with programs in Glenwood Springs and Basalt, Caine said. A different summer school program was offered to Carbondale students.
The free program includes breakfast, a hot lunch, bus transport and weekly field trips. Students spent three hours in the morning studying reading, writing and math, and spent the afternoon doing creative projects such as dance, music, art and geography.
Every Friday, they heard a speaker in the morning and went on a field trip in the afternoon. Destinations included Colorado Mountain College, Rifle Gap State Park, Rock Bottom Ranch and the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park.
The program drew 210 students who just finished kindergarten, first, second or third grade at Sopris or Glenwood Springs elementary schools. It also drew 200 students of the same grades to Basalt Elementary. Attendance was a remarkably high 95 percent.
The idea was to revive a summer school program, dropped due to budget cuts, that would reverse the common loss during the summer months of academic gains made in the previous school year.
"National research shows that kids, especially those living in poverty, lose a lot over the summer. They're not as engaged, not encouraged to read or taken to museums and libraries as often as more affluent kids. The research shows they tend to forget two to three months of learning," Caine said.
But by going through the Summer Advantage program, which is a nationally recognized model, students actually gain ground and enter school in the fall two to three months ahead of where they were academically when regular classes ended in the spring, Caine said.
"These children have learned that hard work pays off," said Marisol Henriquez, Basalt Summer Advantage USA program manager. "Our scholars are growing, learning and having fun all at the same time. Many say they wish the regular school year was this much fun. When they get off the bus, they run into the school with big smiles on their faces!"
Students are tested at the beginning and end of the five-week session to measure their gains. The results aren't in yet, Caine said, but this summer's teachers say they can see and experience the gains students are making.
And every week, teachers give the kids a brain challenge and print out a weekly status graph so kids can see for themselves how they are improving.
"They like it because it's fun and because they are learning. They like to be smarter. And their parents definitely saw the gains," Caine said.
And in Glenwood Springs, students from the town's two elementary schools got a chance to meet each other and make new friends.
The Summer Advantage summer school program was launched locally by Summit 54, an education support organization based in Aspen and Denver that was created in 2010 to bring additional educational opportunities to children in Colorado, specifically those in greatest need.
Caine and her husband, Tony, of Aspen, are founders of Summit 54.
Summit 54 applied for an early literacy grant from Mile High United Way and the Social Innovation Fund to bring the Summer Advantage USA program to the Roaring Fork Valley. The $236,000 per year grant is being matched dollar to dollar by Summit 54.
It's a two-year grant, so Summer Advantage will be offered again next summer in Glenwood Springs and Basalt, with an added grade level. Caine said the grant is expected to be continued through 2016.
Summit 54 got an additional $50,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to pay for the breakfasts and lunches served this year.
"Although Summer Advantage USA is a privately funded program, it would not have been possible without the wholehearted support and assistance of the Roaring Fork School District, which provided facilities, janitorial service, utilities, bus transportation and most importantly support, by encouraging students, parents and teachers to participate in the program," said Caine.