Giving Thought: A proven antidote for the ‘summer slide’

Tamara Tormohlen
Giving Thought
Tamara Tormohlen
Steve Mundinger

There is good news for elementary school-aged children who need an academic boost to avoid “learning loss” over the summer. After a COVID-related disruption in summer 2020, the Summer Advantage program is back. This free, five-week academic and life-enrichment program is designed to help youngsters retain the knowledge and skills they’ve gained at school and keep them on track toward a successful academic future.

“Our purpose is to prevent any summer learning loss and, in fact, to move kids forward three months,” said Terri Caine, executive director of Summit 54, a local nonprofit that partners with multiple entities to offer Summer Advantage here. “National statistics show that children, especially low-income children, tend to regress three months over the summer. Without a summer academic program, teachers need to repeat the prior year’s material in the fall.”

Summer Advantage is a national program that exists in the Roaring Fork Valley thanks to a collaboration between the organization and local partners. Summit 54 and the Roaring Fork School District complete the three-legged stool that supports this remarkable program. For 10 years, Summer Advantage has focused on kids heading into the first through fifth grades, but this year rising sixth-graders are invited too.

Most of the 500-plus students are so-called English-language learners who receive free and reduced lunch during the school year, but the program is open to all rising first- through sixth-grade students who live within the Roaring Fork School District boundaries (Basalt, El Jebel, Carbondale, Redstone, Glenwood Springs and areas in between) are welcome to apply.

Last summer, during the pandemic, Summer Advantage was canceled for public health reasons, but Summit 54 quickly pivoted to offer a substitute program called Summer Success, which served approximately 230 children in parks and other outdoor locations across the valley.

“We had 23 unique locations in parks, rodeo grounds, outside the library in Carbondale, anyplace there was some kind of structural protection against the rain, and access to a bathroom,” Caine recalled. “Kids had really been starving for social interaction, parents were going nuts being with their kids 24-7, and the teachers missed their kids too.”

Teachers, predominantly from the Roaring Fork School District but also from neighboring districts, were easy for Summit 54 to find and put to work last summer. Retired educators seeking some extra income were hired, along with teachers from other states who have family in the valley. Although smaller than the usual Summer Advantage program, Summer Success was sufficiently popular that Caine and her partners were asked to replicate the whole thing, as an after-school activity, in fall 2020. Then the same thing happened in winter 2021 (online) and spring of 2021. Somehow, in the midst of the pandemic, the program filled a social and academic void for all involved.

“We provided summer, fall, winter and spring academic support for kids in our valley,” Caine said, still amused and amazed by all the heavy lifting. “It was really rewarding.”

And now, after an entire year of invention and creative problem-solving, the original Summer Advantage is returning. At this point, some 530 children have enrolled and 70 teachers have committed for the June 21-July 23 program. A limited number of spaces are still available. The Monday-through-Friday sessions will be held at elementary schools in Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs and bus transportation will be provided. The 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. schedule includes time for both classroom academics and physical activities Monday-through-Thursday, and Fridays are devoted to field trips and outdoor adventures.

The program does require commitment, and a mandatory meeting between parents and the program organizers sets the tone.

“We share with parents the importance of daily attendance,” Caine said. “Children need to be there every day unless they’re sick. You really cannot learn if you’re not present.”

Breakfasts and lunches are provided at the school sites, and Food Bank of the Rockies is providing after-school, take-home snacks and meals for participants. Mountain Family Health Centers will also staff their clinics at the schools during some program hours.

Online registration is available at in both Spanish and English, or families can call 1-866-924-7226 (*9 for Spanish).

Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of Aspen Community Foundation.


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