Vail Mountain School’s SummerQuest students invent their future | VailDaily.com

Vail Mountain School’s SummerQuest students invent their future

Emily Tamberino
Special to the Daily
Vail, CO Colorado

SummerQuest eighth grade students, Abigail Aguilera and Alma Gurrola, introduce the keynote speaker of the evening, Edward Casias.

VAIL, Colorado – This month, 27 sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade students from public schools throughout Eagle County gathered each day for SummerQuest classes at Vail Mountain School and to gain inspiration and confidence to “invent their future.”

For the past 15 years, Vail Mountain School has hosted SummerQuest, a month-long summer program for students who have been identified as motivated and in need of additional academic support. In many instances, English is the second language of these students, who have been recommended by their schools to participate in the program. Local teachers, along with Vail Mountain School students, faculty and alumni, tutor and mentor these children in mathematics and language arts, and facilitate esteem-building activities and an appreciation for a healthy lifestyle.

Last week, over 70 of SummerQuest’s staff, students, and the students’ immediate and extended families gathered in Vail Mountain School’s dining room for an unforgettable evening tradition called Family Futures Night. Summit County Court Judge Edward J. Casias, the keynote speaker for this event, implored the students to “Stay in school – it will take you to opportunities you won’t get any other way.” He continued, “(SummerQuest) is the start, not the end.”

In attendance at Family Futures Night were the SummerQuest students; faculty and staff; and the students’ parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, and uncles, all of whom comprise these children’s “teachers” and mentors. Dr. Kate Drescher, staff psychologist at Vail Mountain School, works with SummerQuest students, and said, “It truly ‘takes a village to raise children,’ and this program recognizes the importance of the families’ involvement in the students’ education and upbringing.”

Judge Casias reinforced this theme when he addressed the families and said, “Your children are your legacy to the future-help them to achieve great things.”

The eighth grade students in the program were given the honor and challenge of preparing the evening’s festivities. Families brought dishes that reflected their heritage. The students were gifted school supplies and a copy of a Spanish/English dictionary from the directors and faculty.

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“We want the students to know that we care about them, and this resource will hopefully remind them of their experience here this summer and be put to good use!” Drescher said.

“Since SummerQuest, I have made better decisions with my life and in school,” said Alma Gurrola, an eighth-grader in the program. “At SummerQuest, they talk to us about college and what we could do if we went to college and how it could make our future better.”

This is the final week of SummerQuest, with graduation taking place last Wednesday evening.

“SummerQuest is such a unique program in its multi-faceted approach to the curriculum,” said the program’s director, Collins Canada. “The teachers have addressed not only academic areas of weakness, but they’ve also talked with their students about the importance of health, fitness and college preparedness. Their work with the whole family celebrates each member’s role in the education of the children. This is such a rewarding experience for everyone involved, as the students and their families have truly been inspired to envision and invent their futures.”

Canada and the teachers expect to see some sixth- and seventh-grade students return next year to further develop the skills they have learned this summer. As they conclude their 15th anniversary year of the program, the director and a larger advisory board are considering a long range plan that might include an extension program for high school students.

“Students who have graduated from the program would return as teachers and mentors in their high school years,” Canada said. “They would also receive additional guidance as they draw closer to graduating from high school and considering their futures. In this way, all of the participants would benefit.”

SummerQuest’s current model is already mutually beneficial to the students and young, aspiring teachers.

“The subset of teachers in the program who are still in high school bring a wonderful spirit and enthusiasm to the program, and in turn, they receive training and hands-on experience to help them determine whether this might be a profession they’d like to pursue,” Canada said.

Canada herself is one of many who taught at SummerQuest as a young adult and has since become a teacher.

“Since SummerQuest, I have made better decisions with my life and in school,” Gurrola said. “I have better grades. I am looking for a bright future.”

Funding for SummerQuest is made possible through gifts from corporations, individuals, and foundations, as well as the Vail Mountain School annual Holiday Plant Sale, which takes place October-December. For more information about SummerQuest and/or Family Futures Night, e-mail summerquest@vms.edu.

Emily Tamberino is director of communications for Vail Mountain School.