Vail Valley Voices: Filling in a gap in education
Vail, CO, Colorado
It is well established that the most important factor in providing a high-level educational experience to students is the quality of the school principals and teachers at those schools.
Assuming these quality professionals are present, another important factor is how many hours per day, and days per year, students attend classes.
The countries in the world with the best education systems are ones that attract and pay high quality teachers, and ones that have longer school hours and years.
Both of these factors are being challenged today in our county’s school system.
As chairman of The Youth Foundation (about to merge into the Vail Valley Foundation, and become its education arm), I want our community to know that both foundations are committed to helping address the second factor above.
We do this by providing “Extended Learning” through our PwrHrs After School programs. Working closely with the schools in our district, our staff and volunteers work side by side with teachers (whom we pay a livable wage for their work outside of normal school hours) to provide after-school academic and enrichment programs to children that need the help the most.
The school system now has the capability to measure and track each student by new, more rigorous standards. With this tool, school coordinators and teachers can address each student’s most glaring needs with additional tutoring and assistance in the hours right after school.
Working with a student-teacher ratio of 6 to 1, attention to each student is intense. Progress is measured, and as students improve in their weakest subject, they are moved to another small group of students that are working on a different academic skill where they also have a weakness.
A summer-school program is an important component of Extended Learning. The school system has no money for summer programs, and “summer slide” (a well-measured decrease in student proficiency due to the lack of academic and social stimulation during the summer) is a fact of student life, especially for lower-income students, who do not have the resources to attend summer camps, or travel on vacations like many of their higher-income peers do. This year-round approach amounts to an extra 30 days of school for children in these programs!
The results can be impressive. At Avon Elementary School, for examCSAP scores (the statewide measurement tool) prior to this program were in the 51 percent to 53 percent proficient range in both reading and math. After a full year of this program – which included six weeks of summer school for these students – CSAP scores climbed into the 68 percent to 69 percent range, about the state average. And this was after one year of the program!
Avon Elementary, on the strength of its principal, teachers, educational tools and support available from the school system, coupled with our support, has moved from “turnaround” status to “performing” status in the eyes of the state school system.
And just recently, the school was nominated by the Colorado Department of Education to be a prestigious National Blue Ribbon School – one of only 300 nominated in the country.
I mention Avon Elementary here because I live in Avon and spend some time there, but other schools in the district also are making significant progress using this system.
You might ask how much this all costs. Including some state funds that were made available when the school was rated “turnaround,” the annual cost is around $700 per student. It’s not an insignificant amount of money (raised through donations to The Youth Foundation), but we think this is a bargain and worth every penny.
Our private-public partnership with the school system can make an important contribution to the children of the valley. We hope to be able to bring this program to any school in the system that has students who can benefit from it and a principal and teachers willing to commit to the extra time it demands of them.
This is but one of the programs that a combined Youth Foundation-Vail Valley Foundation offers. In the future, I hope to be able to write about some of the others. Thank you for taking the time to read and learn about this!
Steve Coyer is the chairman of The Youth Foundation.