Retired Basalt entrepreneur visualizes a downvalley after-school program
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
CARBONDALE ” It’s 4:30 p.m. at the Carbondale Middle School and class is out, but a half-dozen students are hard at work.
Dressed in baggy sweatshirts and jeans, the boys peer intently at sheet music, lift their guitars, and with grave seriousness launch into “Ring Around the Rosy.” Later in the class, they’ll move on to “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” and finally, a few bars of “Ode to Joy.”
A few rooms over, several students are learning to act, courtesy of Thunder River Theater Co. Nearby, others are learning soccer, programming computers or painting.
But to the only adult-student in the guitar class ” former technology company CEO, Missouri Heights resident, Access Roaring Fork founder and after-school activist Steve Kaufman ” these classes aren’t just after-school enrichment. They’re the beginning of an after-school program that could finally give downvalley parents a reliable place to send their kids from 3:30-5:30 in the afternoon: the public schools.
In fact, Kaufman hopes his program will eventually help convince Garfield County voters to pass an after-school sales tax, much like Pitkin County’s early childhood education tax.
But to get through next year ” and to take the next step of expanding the program to five days a week, adding at least one paid staff member and providing transportation home for attendees ” Kaufman will soon need to raise about $170,000 from local government agencies and nonprofits in the midst of a recession. That’s on top of the $25,000 fundraising shortfall he currently faces for this year’s $40,000 budget.
Since 1991, working parents in Aspen have had a place to send their kids after school: the Aspen Youth Center. But while the downvalley is certainly not devoid of post-class activities, there is no place that provides supervision and enrichment five days a week, according to Roaring Fork School District Superintendent Judy Haptonstall.
Communities build after-school programs, according to Sarah Visnic, the executive director of the Aspen Youth Center, because statistically, the riskiest time in any child’s day is from 3-6 p.m. That’s when drug and alcohol use, pregnancy and crime skyrocket among teens.
Kaufman said after-school enrichment programs that cost money or require transportation to attend rarely attract the kids who really need to be there.
So in mid-December, Kaufman began a pilot after-school program at Carbondale Middle School. The program offers free classes, three days a week, in theater, soccer, homework help, athletics, guitar-playing, painting, computer-building ” and soon, golf. Eventually, he hopes to expand the program to every downvalley middle school, and then every elementary school.
To ensure attendance ” particularly among the 53 percent of Carbondale Middle School students who qualify for free or reduced lunch and the 73 percent who are Latino ” Kaufman showed up at Parents’ Night last fall with a translator, and talked to every single parent. Of the 97 parents who showed up for Parents’ Night, 93 registered their kids for the program, said Kaufman. By January, the program had picked up 50 more students.
Kaufman said he became aware of the need for a comprehensive after-school program in the downvalley while mentoring youth for the Pre-Collegiate Program at Basalt Middle School and teaching an after-school technology class at Carbondale Middle School. By then, the retired entrepreneur also realized he was a better program director than volunteer.
“I guess I was interfering too much in volunteer activities ” I was always trying to build a better mousetrap,” he said.
So Kaufman started calling around to local nonprofits, looking for partners. Almost immediately, Deborah Barnekow, at the Aspen Music School, agreed to teach ” and fund ” a Lead Guitar class.
Soon, Carbondale artist Majid Kahhak committed to teach students to paint on canvas with acrylics. Carbondale Middle School Principal Rick Holt and teacher Michael Logan volunteered to coach a soccer program. Thunder River Theater Co. agreed to teach acting. Chuck Schwab, athleticism director at the WIN Institute, agreed to teach a program that helps kids become better athletes and avoid injuries. Last week, the nonprofit First Tee said it would provide golf lessons.
But even as programs continue to sign on, Kaufman’s funding goal looms. Still, he says he’s not daunted yet.
“What gave me the gall to start a technology company after being fired from an airline company [for union organizing] … was just a strong intuitive belief that there was a need, that I could provide it,” he said. “It’s the same here. “
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