Pre-Collegiate Program fulfills the promise of opportunity
State Rep. Bob Rankin was so impressed by the results he saw in a recent meeting with CU-Boulder Chancellor Phil DiStefano, he asked Diana Sirko, superintendent of Roaring Fork School District, to coauthor this article about RFSD’s successful Pre-Collegiate program.
When our nation was formed, our forefathers had a vision of public schools for all that would create an opportunity for every one of our children to become educated and have access to a future to match their dreams. It’s especially satisfying to be able to share the successes of a unique program that is delivering on that promise of opportunity.
As our four district high schools in the Roaring Fork School District completed the last academic year, we had the opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments and graduation of the class of 2014. As all of these fine young men and women left us to pursue future endeavors, we also recognized the accomplishments of the students who participated in the Roaring Fork Pre-Collegiate Program.
This past year 193 high school and middle school students in the Roaring Fork Valley benefitted from this unique partnership designed to prepare more students to enter college and be fully prepared for success while they are there. Operating for over a decade now, the Roaring Fork Pre-Collegiate Program, under the excellent guidance of Director Leslie Emerson, and a Board of dedicated volunteers, focuses on students who would become first-generation enrollees in higher education institutions.
Originally developed by the University of Colorado, the Pre-Collegiate Program works with first-generation students and their families to provide opportunities that will allow their children to pursue a college education. A student is classified as a first-generation student if neither of their parents has a four-year college degree. Through our high schools’ academic preparation programs, leadership development opportunities, and tools for parents, the Pre-Collegiate Program develops the skills and resources to help students through high school and be fully prepared to enter college. College and career goals were clearly articulated as part of the visioning process.
What’s special about the Roaring Fork School District program is that it is not another top-down, state mandated program, but rather is a local program designed to reflect the unique circumstances of our community. The Roaring Fork School District worked with CU-Boulder, Colorado Mountain College and the Aspen Community Foundation to create the program and to construct these opportunities. It is a true partnership that reflects local values and addresses our specific needs. And nowhere is its success more clear than in the Roaring Fork Valley.
The Roaring Fork program, largely using volunteer resources, has three elements that have been central to its success: a volunteer mentors program; regularly scheduled weekend sessions; and academic summer programs provided by CMC and CU/Boulder. These components, fine-tuned to the needs of our students and families, have made this program a winner. We celebrate the many outstanding mentors in the program who volunteer a great deal of their own personal time to work with our students from seventh grade through their graduation. Many of our mentors stay connected with their mentees throughout their college years and on into their adult lives.
Over the past decade the program has graduated over 200 “first generation” students. This is a 100 percent high school graduation rate for students enrolled in the program. Of those, 97 percent have gone on to institutions of higher education. Sixty-three percent of our students have gone on to four-year colleges, and 37 percent have stayed closer to home to attend Colorado Mountain College. Because it has worked so well, the program is now being expanded in our district through a three-year, $100,000 per-year grant from President Bruce Benson and the CU Foundation. It is also being implemented in the Summit County School District. In addition, CU-Boulder’s Chancellor, Phil DiStefano, is providing funding to host more of our Pre-Collegiate Program students on campus at the two-week summer program each year.
The students and families in this program are hard workers – we wouldn’t see these impressive numbers if that weren’t the case. Families who’ve never had anyone go to college, who may suffer economic hardships, often have lower high school graduation rates and college enrollment figures. CU-Boulder’s educational innovations, in combination with a close partnership with the school district, CMC, and other local organizations, have reversed that trend in the Roaring Fork School District.
Because this program has had such a positive impact on our young adults, their families, and our communities, both of us endorse expanding this program. In the spirit of the partnership that’s been so central to its success so far, we encourage local businesses and organizations to assist with additional funding, as well as internship opportunities for Pre-Collegiate Program students.
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