Giving Thought: School’s out for the summer

Allison Alexander | Giving Thought
Allison Alexander
Courtesy photo

Summer is in full swing, and for many adults in our community, that means an influx of events and activities to attend; for school-aged children it can bring seemingly endless hours of unstructured time. For many working parents, this expanse of time can cause anxiety for a variety of reasons, not limited to safety, food insecurity and academic “learning loss.”  

A number of research studies have shown that youth involvement in organized activities outside of school time has a positive impact on mental health and well-being, reducing substance abuse and school performance. Many Aspen workers spend more than two hours a day commuting, which means having options up and down the valley is essential. With the rising cost of living, the cost of many summer camps and activities can be prohibitive. Fortunately, our region is home to several summer options at low or no-cost.  

Downvalley, Summit54 launched its 10th year of free summer learning, Summer Advantage, for first through sixth graders this month with its partners, Roaring Fork School District and Ross Montessori School. This year 650 students will participate in five weeks of all-day programming. Each week, students engage in academic learning as well as enrichment courses, including yoga, karate, environmental education, drama and weekly field trips. With 74% of enrolled students eligible for free and reduced lunch, another critical component of this program is its inclusion of both breakfast and lunch for all students to help meet their nutritional needs.

Summer Advantage differentiates itself from traditional school in several ways, according to Molly Peterson, program leader for Glenwood Springs Elementary School.

“Summer Advantage is different from the school year because alongside their in-class learning, scholars also experience learning outside of the school building, in their community during weekly field trips,” she said. “I think the program is successful because the teachers have fun and the students have fun while they learn through the summer.”

Historically, students have shown two-plus months of academic growth by the end of the five-week program. 

Additionally, Summer Advantage specifically addresses the social emotional needs of students by training its teachers on identifying trauma and effectively assisting students who are suffering. “Every teacher is also provided with FocusedKids training to start each morning with brain exercises and deep breathing to help students relax and prepare their brains to learn,” according to Terri Cane, executive director of Summit54. 

While Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club might not immediately come to mind when looking for summer activities, their Crown Mountain Park summer bike camps have almost 500 students enrolled. Development Director Miah Wheeler says, “AVSC’s role during the summer is to continue to coach and inspire kids to excel while promoting a community of passion, grit and mountain culture. We also acknowledge that most parents must work, so we strive to help families navigate this by creating a safe place for kids to go while they are at work. Basing our programs out of the midvalley has helped make our programming accessible to families whose obstacles to participation include transportation.” 

The addition of summer programming allows AVSC employees year-round opportunities that create more stability and support, enabling them to strengthen their skills as mentors and coaches, according to Wheeler. Strong bonds between students and mentors have been shown to have lasting positive impacts on children’s lives. 

AVSC has committed itself to gaining trust in traditionally underserved communities and providing access regardless of financial circumstances. Wheeler notes that this year 22% of student participants are children of color, an increase from past years. 

Aspen Youth Center (AYC) is the only program in our region that offers free year-round programming to youth in fourth through 12th grade. It sees an influx of students from downvalley communities during the summer.  Its summer calendar is bursting with opportunities including: rafting, art, cooking, flights with EcoFlight, academic support and trail cleaning. Many of these would be inaccessible to students without the AYC. 

The social and emotional well-being of students is critical to the staff of the AYC, according to Executive Director Michaela Idhammar-Ketpure. Staff at the AYC have participated in training in Mental Health First Aid, Trauma Informed Care, LQBTQI+ Allyship and more. According to last year’s youth satisfaction survey, 96% of students reported they learned how to get along better with peers at AYC, and 89% feel better about themselves since coming to the AYC. 

School-aged children spend more than 80% of their time each year out of school. Our region is fortunate to have these dedicated organizations creating healthy and supportive environments. These programs provide parents with peace of mind and students with the critical structures they need to thrive. 

Allison Alexander is the development director of the Aspen Community Foundation.


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