Summer school doesn’t have to be a drag |

Summer school doesn’t have to be a drag

Naya Valdez covers her ears as Gwen Fay and Joseph Bentacur attempt a tune on the glove-o-phone.
Will Grandbois / Post Independent |

For the past few years, Roaring Fork School District’s Middle School Summer School has rejected idea that summer school should be some sort of punishment.

The $50 monthlong program packs in plenty of extra practice in math and literacy in between hands-on project classes and just-for-fun field trips.

There’s room for around 200 Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt middle schoolers in need of an extra boost. Even so, the program has a waiting list.

“The program has grown tremendously,” said Zoe Stern, a Basalt Middle School teacher who oversees the program. “You walk into every room and there’s a sense that learning is happening.”

In one class, students learn how to use apostrophes. The day before, they talked about the “fear of missing out” which leaves teens and adults alike constantly checking their phones – and maybe missing what’s right in front of them.

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Attitude and good habits are a big part of what the program is hoping to instill.

In another classroom, the discussion hinges around the habits of a scholar, which one student summarizes as “instead of messing around, you care for others and not just yourself.”

In the library, a group is using Minecraft to design a future society. It’s a solid lesson in the science of finite resources and the social studies of utopia, but more than anything it’s building teamwork and organization skills.

While most students will take two sets of classes over the course of the program, one set of classes occupies the whole month.

Taught by Cornell University education professor Bryan Duff and a pair of promising teachers in training, one teaches film production while the other covers the physics of music.

Both take a hands-on approach.

In film, students dress up, apply makeup and produce a piece of their own. When they’re done, they’ll be reviewed by a panel of college film students and awards assigned to the best one. Under the surface, it’s a lesson in storytelling and, by extension, writing.

In physics, students look at how instruments are designed to shape sound waves.

“There is so much physics behind music,” said Duff. “It gives it a context they can relate to.”

Looking at a diagram, they can tell you whether a trumpet will make a higher sound with a valve open or shut. To illustrate the point, they make instruments of their own, including bagpipe like glove-o-phones which bring to mind the vuvuzela craze of 2010.

The class also benefits from several special guests, including a deaf person, a cellist and, next week, an expert on birdsong – all subsidized by local businesses.

Other than Duff, who discovered the program last year through a posting on the expeditionary learning website, most of the teachers are local. Many boast years of experience in the Roaring Fork Valley.

“We have exemplary teachers here,” said Stern. “The reason this school is such a success is the staff.”

The students themselves are a factor, too. In the past, misbehaving students have been disqualified from field trips rafting, soaking at the hot springs, or touring the caverns. This year, that hasn’t been a problem. Everyone seems alert, interested, and on task.

“We’ve really tried to send the message — we believe in you. Now it’s time for you to believe in yourself,” Stern said. “I feel honored to be part of this program. It’s been a great few years with a lot of growth and learning for everyone.”

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