VMS SummerQuest gives local middle schoolers a push toward excellence | VailDaily.com

VMS SummerQuest gives local middle schoolers a push toward excellence

VAIL — Three dozen middle school children sit in a circle at the end of their day. They do not sigh or roll their eyes at one another or the adults nearby. They're sharing "suns," acknowledgments and thanks from one to another.

Suns are written on pieces of paper and then posted on a bulletin board to create an archive of gratitude. One thanks a teacher for helping him reach the top of the rock climbing wall. Another recognizes a fellow student who supported him when he was upset during a field trip to Vail.

This day, like most days, SummerQuest students at Vail Mountain School worked on academics, explored the outdoors and built self-confidence and trust.

Juan Pablo, for example, stood at nearly each closing meeting and thanked teachers who helped him that day. It helped other kids feel comfortable doing the same thing, said Lauren Powell, SummerQuest director.

"So many of the kids start off the year reserved and hesitant to speak in public, but that's part of the process," Powell said.

SummerQuest has been around for 23 years, boosted this year by a $25,000 grant from the El Pomar Foundation.

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"We work on academics, but also self-confidence and self-awareness. On the flip side, this is also a way for students who are strong in this area to be leaders and role models," Powell said.

What's SummerQuest?

SummerQuest is for local middle school students who need an academic push. They spend academic time in language arts and math, but also painting, cooking, soccer, 3D design and printing and dancing. There's a raft trip on the Upper Colorado River, service work with the Eagle River Watershed Council and Betty Ford Alpine Gardens and a visit to Vail Mountain's outdoor adventure facilities.

Working with local rock climbing guide Larry Moore, of Adventure Travel Guides International, the seventh-graders spent a day at Camp Hale learning basic climbing skills on the very same wall that was used by soldiers in the 10th Mountain Division.

"The beauty of rock climbing, particularly with children, is that it builds life skills that can be carried anywhere in life," Moore said. "The communication that takes place in helping one another understand the safety aspects of climbing is absolutely critical. It helps the children build the confidence that they need to challenge themselves in a way that they may not think they could have."

It's your future

This year's SummerQuest wrapped up on July 28 with a graduation ceremony. Students received diplomas emblazoned with the SummerQuest sun logo and some sage advice from J.C. Hernandez, who attended Edwards Elementary, Berry Creek Middle School, SummerQuest and then Vail Mountain School. Hernandez graduated from Colorado Mesa University this past year and is pursuing a master's degree in counseling clinical mental health at the University of Colorado Denver.

"I remember being in your position 11 years ago, thinking of what I wanted to be when I was older," Hernandez said. "I am sure many of you have been asked what you want to be when you grow up. I am also sure that many of you have not been asked this question: 'Are you ready to work for what you want?' I have failed in the past, I have fallen, I have gotten up and I have improved. The idea of not accomplishing something you want can be very scary; it can be very intimidating. But it can also be very rewarding and helpful. There will always be some doubt. You may question yourself. This is normal, we all have doubts, we all hold ourselves back. I want you to challenge your doubts, focus on your goals and you will prove those doubts wrong."

It's good for teachers, too.

"SummerQuest gave me an appreciation for the care and dedication that each one of my professors has toward students," said VMS alumna Annie Blakslee. She's at Bates College and spent July 2016 as a SummerQuest student teacher.

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

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