YouthPower365 strives for 100 percent career and college readiness for program participants | VailDaily.com

YouthPower365 strives for 100 percent career and college readiness for program participants

Editor's note: This is the third part of a three-part series about the 20th anniversary of The Youth Foundation, now called YouthPower365.

AVON — Sure, how you feel might matter, but what you do matters more.

Twenty years ago, YouthPower365 started as the vision of a few local men and women who wanted to close the education gap in our community and support the efforts of the local school system in making sure everyone in our valley had a fair shot at a quality education.

The beginnings were humble enough, as The Youth Foundation. Some of those early board members saw local kids playing soccer in the street, kicking the ball back and forth across U.S. Highway 6 in Edwards, or in the Edwards rest stop, using tractor-trailer rigs as something like movable sidelines.

Academic soccer followed, as did untold numbers of other programs. In 2012, The Youth Foundation merged with the Vail Valley Foundation and became YouthPower365, with an academic focus. The goal is to make sure every kid who enters its programs graduates high school on time and ready for a career or college.

"If we can inspire kids to stay in school, they'll do better and we'll all be in a better place," said Melisa Rewold-Thuon, executive director of YouthPower365.

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The mission is ambitious and clear:

• 100 percent career and college readiness.

• Every child, every day, hence the name YouthPower365.

Cradle to career

The face of those participating in YouthPower365 programs is changing, Rewold-Thuon said. The cost of living is so high in this area that many families cannot make ends meet and also pay for soccer leagues.

In a presentation to the school district, YouthPower365 said Eagle County has Colorado's highest percentage of undocumented immigrants.

It takes $84,000 a year for a family to make it in Eagle County, according to Colorado Council of Law and Policy, which is 341 percent of the federal poverty level, or $24,600 for a family of four.

Most of the families served by YouthPower365 have incomes that fall below that, Rewold-Thuon said.

The goal of cradle to career is to inspire, educate, empower and create a pipeline to support kids all the way through their academic careers.

Right now, most kids come to the program through their schools, Rewold-Thuon said. Most YouthPower365 school programs are open enrollment; any kid who wants to participate is welcome to do so.

"We still target kids who need it most, but we want it to be inclusive. Anyone who wants to be part of the programs, gets to be," Rewold-Thuon said.

Knowledge is Power

According to the Colorado Department of Education, 36.1 percent of 2015 high school graduates were placed into developmental education in at least one subject, and of the high school graduates who matriculated to college in Colorado, 7,838 students were placed into developmental education.

YouthPower365 programs go beyond the all-too-typical hand-wringing and angst-ridden rhetoric and are focused on doing something about those numbers. The programs are far-reaching and fall under three larger categories: PowerUp, PwrHrs and PowerOn, all focused on academics.

PowerUp starts with parent mentors, the Magic Bus, Learn Through Play and Success at Six, a program to make sure kids are ready for school when they start.

PwrHrs includes COPA soccer, academic soccer, KidStrong and other academic programs.

"This is a great program. I feel blessed that this is offered at such an affordable cost and that the kids get to continue their learning," said Rebecca Ocepek, a PwrHrs parent.

PowerOn helps high school students find their way into careers and college. The program follows kids to make sure they are graduating on time and that they are more academically ready for college or the workforce and do not need remediation.

Group Mentoring, for example, starts with middle school students and the two dozen volunteer mentors who work with them, teaching self-esteem, along with the academic prowess they'll need for college and the workforce.

"They believe they'll be ready," Rewold-Thuon said.

Their parents believe, too.

"I have learned techniques to help my own children and I have become more involved in my community and schools with greater ease," said Blanca Cabral, a Parent Mentor coordinator with three years in the program.

Data tells the tale

Rewold-Thuon crunched the data and found that 74 percent of kids enrolled in YouthPower365 programming are Hispanic and 68 percent are English language learners.

• 93 percent showed growth in language fluency.

• 89 percent showed growth in math.

• 78 percent responded positively to social/emotional inquiries.

In other words, the kids feel better about themselves because they're performing better.

"I love this program. I am able to see kids in a new light," said Brittany Rivera, a PwrHrs teacher. "As I walk around the school to check in on teachers, kids are actively engaged and having fun. They are learning and they don't even know it."

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

Read the first two articles in the series, about the origins of The Youth Foundation and YouthPower365's current programming.

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