Lt. Gov. Garcia bestows honor to GSHS | PostIndependent.com

Lt. Gov. Garcia bestows honor to GSHS

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Just 8 percent of schools in Colorado earn the Governor's Distinguished Improvement Award each year, and an even smaller percentage win the award in consecutive years.

It's an honor for Glenwood Springs High School that was worthy of another rarity on Friday — a personal visit from Colorado Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia to officially present this year's award.

"It is significant to not only win the Distinguished Improvement Award, but especially to win it for two straight years," Garcia told a gathering of the GSHS student body and staff in the school's Jeannie Miller Theatre Friday morning.

"It says that this is a school that cares about success and academic achievement," said Garcia. "I believe every student here can be successful, and this award recognizes that."

The Glenwood Springs stop was one of three visits to Roaring Fork Valley schools Friday during which Garcia acknowledged academic successes locally and a unique, collaborative effort at improving early childhood literacy.

Garcia spoke at Basalt Middle School, another winner of the Distinguished Improvement Award this year.

And, he addressed students and parents at Basalt Elementary School, one of the Roaring Fork School District schools involved in the collaborative Summit 54 Summer Advantage program, a summer school initiative aimed at preventing the "summer slide" and improving the academic success of students in grades kindergarten through third grade in Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs.

Garcia shared with the Glenwood high school students that he was an average student who took a job out of high school as a truck driver before he was persuaded to go to college.

"I never was one of the smartest kids, but I just kept after it. And I encourage all of you to keep after it," he said.

The Distinguished Improvement awards are given each year to schools that demonstrate exceptional student growth, and are successful in closing the "achievement gap" between students who are performing as expected and those still struggling to become proficient in their studies.

GSHS Principal Paul Freeman noted that two of the high schools that have won the governor's award two years running are from Colorado's Western Slope, those being Glenwood Springs and Palisade high schools.

"We are showing that, in both academics and athletics, we can outperform any of the schools from the other side of the Continental Divide," Freeman said.

Summer Advantage program expands

In Basalt, Garcia recognized the local education foundation Summit 54 for its collaboration with the Roaring Fork School District to bring the Summer Advantage program to local elementary schools.

Last year, Summit 54 obtained funding from Mile High United Way to offer the summer school program to 400 students in grades kindergarten through third grade at Basalt and Glenwood Springs elementary schools.

"Too many of our students are leaving third grade below their grade level in reading, writing and math," Garcia said during the Friday visit. "We will not meet our literacy goals in Colorado unless we have more programs like Summer Advantage."

The program will expand locally this summer to include 750 students with the addition of Crystal River Elementary School in Carbondale and students from Sopris Elementary in Glenwood Springs.

Last summer, students who participated in the free, five-week summer academic and enrichment program gained more than three months worth of growth in reading and 1.7 months in math, said Terri Caine, who founded Summit 54 with her husband Tony.

That contrasts with the national average for "summer learning loss" of two to three months for children who are not encouraged to read and stay engaged in their learning over the summer.

"Learning opportunities are important for all children, but especially for those who don't have the resources at home to practice what they've learned over the summer," Caine said after Garcia's Friday visit.

With outside funding from Mile High United Way and Summit 54, the program offers the students who participate breakfast and lunch. The Roaring Fork School District has agreed to provide student transportation for the summer program.

The day entails intensive literacy and math learning in the morning, followed by hands-on projects in the afternoon focused on reading and math skills. The day ends with art, music and dance enrichment.

Friday field trips are also provided, in cooperation with different organizations in the valley, Caine said. This year, college students who are home for the summer are organizing a college fair to talk with the younger students about their colleges.

Parent involvement, including agreements that their students will show up every day on time and that they will be part of their children's learning at home, is also a big part of the summer program.

"The goal is to have these students reading at grade level by the third and fourth grade," Caine said.

jstroud@postindependent.com