Summer Advantage enriches kids’ learning |

Summer Advantage enriches kids’ learning

Kelli Rollin
Blake Gilner leads a karate class as part of the Summer Advantage program at Sopris Elementary School.
Kelli Rollin / Post Independent |

Sighs of relief surged from a group of about 20 first-graders as they stretched and prepared for karate.

It’s not what you might think of as summer school, but the class was a part of Summit 54’s Summer Advantage USA program, which had a branch at Sopris Elementary in Glenwood Springs.

The program allows any child kindergarten through fourth grade to enroll for a five-week summer school session. During the program, students participate in academic and enrichment activities, such as the karate class.

Mary Peplin, the program manager for Summer Advantage in Glenwood, said 325 students enrolled this summer. Other program locations are in Carbondale and Basalt, bringing the grand enrollment to about 700.

Nicole Tarumianz, program manager for Summit 54, said the program helps kids who are behind in school either catch up or advance.

Terry Caine, Summit 54’s founder, said the program is important because:

• 88 percent of high school dropouts were not at grade level in reading when they finished third grade.

• If kids aren’t at grade level in reading by the time they finish third grade, they typically fall further behind their classmates.

• Low-income children forget more during the summer than their middle-income peers, resulting in up to a 2.5-year gap by fifth grade.

Blake Gilner, an Aspen native who now lives in Panama, comes back each summer to teach karate at the program.

“I found it to be so rewarding,” Gilner said.

He said his kids attend the program while they’re here and have gotten better in their English skills.

Gilner taught a total of 70 kindergarteners through fourth-graders Soo Bahk Do in the program, a form of karate that he’s been doing most of his life.

“I love to give them the wings and watch their spirits fly,” Gilner said about teaching students martial arts.

Karen Wentzel, a second-grade teacher at Cactus Valley Elementary, teaches kindergarten through fourth grade for the Summer Advantage program.

In the morning, Wentzel teaches fourth-grade academics in reading, writing and math.

She said the dynamics of teaching a class are always different, since each student is at a different skill level. Students are given a skill test to see where they’re at, which determines the pace Wentzel teaches.

“I encourage them to work hard and be prepared,” Wenztel said about teaching kids in the program. “You just have to know the scholar — where their strengths and weaknesses are — and make a plan.”

Wentzel said she had a student who made it his goal at the beginning of the program to learn long division.

“He just couldn’t get it,” she said about the child’s struggles.

She said she worked on it with him at program, and he practiced at home for a solid four weeks.

“He came up to me and said, ‘Mrs. Wentzel, I met my goal!’” she said. “I was so happy for him and so proud of him.”

In the afternoon, she teaches kindergarten through third grade in character education through scrapbooking.

Each week brings a new character trait, such as “caring.” She said students write a short journal about it and then decorate a page in their scrapbook.

“It’s kind of fun to see scholars pick up where I left off,” said Wentzel, who used to scrapbook more.

“It is really rewarding to have a short amount of time and see the growth in that short amount of time,” Wentzel said of teaching in the program.

Cristina Garcia, Maria Garcia’s daughter, has been in the program for four years, completing her last eligible year this summer.

Garcia said through a translator that her experience with having her daughter in the program has been a good one.

“It helps with the tests she’s going to take while going to school,” Garcia said through a translator.

She said her daughter learned a lot while in the program and improved in her grammar.

Summit 54 offers other programs, such as a college and pre-collegiate track to help those in need with academic success.

Garcia said now that it’s her daughter’s last year in this program, she’s going to try her best to have Cristina participate in future programs.

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