Summit 54 returns with scaled-back ‘Summer Success’ program serving Roaring Fork elementary-aged students

Eric Jimenez-Pool (right) and Archie Charian work on their art projects while sitting six feet apart at Veltus Park during their Summer Success class in late June.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

When a successful summer school program in the lower Roaring Fork Valley was canceled a month before classes were to start due to the coronavirus, organizers put their thinking caps on to salvage some type of meaningful alternative.

The result was the start last week of Summit 54’s free “Summer Success” program at several unique tutoring locations in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt.

The scaled-back summer session limited its reach to 200 upcoming first through fifth graders — including 140 in Glenwood Springs alone — using a variety of mostly outdoor teaching sites.

The program is a tailored version of the popular Summer Advantage program that normally serves upwards of 600 students in that same age group each summer.

It provides academic enrichment and tutoring to keep students on track through the summer, plus nutritious snacks and a lunch, and a special emphasis on social-emotional support.

“Studies show that children are experiencing greater levels of stress and worry due to Covid-19 and need social/emotional support more than ever,” Summit 54 Executive Director Terri Caine said. “When students are worried, their brains are blocked. We need to help them relax to be able to learn.”

The school district and Summit 54 made the joint decision in mid-May not to proceed with Summer Advantage this year due to concerns about opening school facilities to large numbers of children, teachers and staff during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the program’s champions weren’t about to give up, Caine said.

Summit 54 partnered with Focused Kids to adopt a curriculum using mindful exercises to start the day. Children learn about the brain and use calming activities to support self control, she explained.

Once in that place mentally, students are provided with 90 minutes of literacy support, followed by a break with a healthy snack and exercise, then 60 minutes of math instruction. Each child is then sent home with a nutritious lunch.

Small groups with low student-to-teacher ratios not only serve the purpose of maintaining social distancing requirements, but provide better one-on-one support for students, Caine said.

Health screens involving a forehead thermometer scan are done with each student before the day begins to make sure none are showing symptoms of the virus. 

“Summit 54 didn’t want to just leave kids without any academic support, so we kept as many components of Summer Advantage that we could and developed Summer Success,” she said.  

Caine worked with her co-directors, Elaine Grossman and Tracy Bethell, to begin contacting parents who had previously enrolled their children in Summer Advantage. Valley Settlement’s bilingual staff worked with Spanish-speaking families to inform them about the outdoor tutoring program and help them register.

Once registration closed, students were grouped by grade level and neighborhood to create small groups. Teachers and teaching assistants were then paired with student groups, each with a bilingual speaker, and locations were assigned in each of the three communities.

“Finding 22 different tutoring locations turned out to be more difficult than expected,” Caine said.  “We need bathroom access and shelter from sun, wind and rain.”

All but two of the tutoring sites are completely outdoors, using park gazebos and pavilions. The two indoor locations were donated by Youth Zone in Glenwood Springs and Aspen Santa Fe Ballet in Carbondale.

The school district agreed to extend its daily grab-and-go meals, which continue into July for all students in the district, to the Summer Success program.

After meeting several technical requirements, the program hired 50 educators, many of whom had counted on Summer Advantage for employment through the summer months.

“We were very fortunate that school leaders, who have worked with Summer Advantage in the past, agreed to fill management positions for Summer Success,” Caine added.  

Kyle-Leigh Berry, who has managed Summer Advantage for many years, agreed to fill the same role for Summer Success. Glenwood Springs Middle School teacher Justin Baum is the Glenwood Springs lead, and Kennady Nickell is the Basalt lead.  

“They all worked incredibly hard to pull this off so quickly,” Caine said. “We were happy we could support our local economy by providing summer employment for our educators and free childcare for working families.” 

A primary goal of the summer school program is also to help children who have fallen behind and experienced extra stress during the COVID-19 school closures, she added.

“It is truly rewarding to see so many not-for-profits pull together to help our children,” she said.

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