Education beyond grades for (HS)2 summer students in Carbondale
For five weeks in the summer, high school students from cities all over the country come to Carbondale for more school.
Colorado Rocky Mountain School’s (HS)2 program, now 12 years old, is like college prep, advanced study, boarding school and summer camp compressed into a fraction of the summer. By all accounts, the program has a big impact on the disadvantaged minority students who participate.
Gladys Tamayo, 17, is just wrapping up her third and final summer at (HS)2, and she says leaving is bittersweet.
“We have really strong bonds here,” she says, But she plans to keep in touch with the teachers and friends she made over the past three years.
After meeting last summer at CRMS, Santiago Moposita and Anell Paulino, both 16 and entering their junior year at different high schools near New York City, got together with several students to watch “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.”
The bond of friendship is just one benefit to their time at CRMS. Students notice a change in their academic progress after their first summer in the valley.
Paulino took geometry and biology at (HS)2 last year, and noticed a difference when she arrived to start sophomore classes last fall.
“When I went back to school, I was sort of ahead compared to my other classmates,” Paulino said. “Throughout our first lessons, I understood the majority of what my teacher was teaching. I was just learning different ways of how to solve a problem.”
She also had a leg up in her biology courses at Cristo Rey High School in Manhattan, which focused on ecology; right in line with her studies at (HS)2. “Other students would ask me for help,” Paulino said.
Because he was already familiar with the geometry concepts, Moposita was able to concentrate on his other AP classes at school last fall. “Without this program, I wouldn’t have been able to do that,” he said.
“I tell the kids we’re here for growth, not grades,” (HS)2 science teacher Brent Maiolo said. “We do give a grade at the end of the program, but it doesn’t mean anything for a college or go on any transcript. What’s cool about this program is you can learn for the sake of learning, and to better yourself.”
Every student at (HS)2 is both academically brilliant and socially disadvantaged. Some are children of undocumented immigrants. Some come from inner-city backgrounds, and the vast majority would be the first generation to attend college.
Every student who goes through the program gets accepted to college, but a few don’t matriculate, said Betsy Bingham-Johns, a veteran of the (HS)2 program and college prep counselor.
“Being around other kids who are similar to them is a huge boost to their self-confidence,” Bingham-Johns said.
“Many of them are used to being the smart kid who didn’t want to raise their hand again and again and again in class. Here, they know we embrace and encourage that.”
Each (HS)2 class is about 25 students, meaning that about 75 students are in the program any given summer.
They take hiking trips and nature walks, spend time outside and on the river, and visit colleges on the Front Range and the Western Slope.
The program is geared toward advanced STEM training, but after the first few years, the faculty noticed a real need for writing training, both to prepare for college and to communicate their stories.
“I think the kids really find their voices here, and that’s part of the writing process. They come to understand that it’s OK to be vulnerable and to share things with their peers in a safe environment, and that allows them to go into the world and feel safe,” Bingham-Johns said.
Second-year students give a showcase where they share a story about something important to them. Last year, one student talked about his fear that he would return from (HS)2 and find out his mother had been deported.
“I cried the most during his showcase,” Maiolo said.
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With the snowpack and precipitation levels in Pitkin County below last year at this time, local officials are bracing for an active wildfire season this summer.