Youth Foundation expands reach among Eagle Valley’s kids
EAGLE COUNTY — It’s a bright, sunny Tuesday morning, and instead of playing outside, a group of 3- to 5-year-olds is learning the sounds of the alphabet on board the Magic School Bus.
For many of the children, it’s the first time they’ve had any formal schooling, — even if it is on board a brightly colored classroom on wheels — and for many, a new experience learning English and being with other kids.
The novelty is evident, as a small scuffle breaks out, but the teachers quickly get the kids organized into a circle, singing a welcome song to start the day. Soon, they’re interacting, doing group exercises and reviewing the alphabet. The beauty of the experience is that the school comes to the students (The Youth Foundation’s Magic School Bus comes to select neighborhoods twice a week), and most of the kids come from families who either can’t afford preschool or are unable to fit it into their schedules otherwise.
They don’t know it, but the kids are participating in what is a new focus for The Youth Foundation. The nonprofit merged with the Vail Valley Foundation as its educational branch nearly three years ago and has grown significantly since.
Before the merger in 2012, The Youth Foundation served 2,100 students across Eagle County. Last school year, they served 3,900 students through expansion of existing programs and the addition of new ones.
Now, under the direction of former Avon Elementary principal and new Vice President of Education Melisa Rewold-Thuon, The Youth Foundation looks to offer more early childhood programs like the Magic School Bus. Beyond that, Rewold-Thuon says the organization hopes to follow students through high school graduation, eventually creating a comprehensive pre-K through 12th grade program.
REACHING MORE KIDS
When The Youth Foundation decided to merge with the Vail Valley Foundation in 2012, some were skeptical, but the partnership has worked out well for the nonprofit. As Rewold-Thuon puts it, the Vail Valley Foundation wanted to increase its scope in education, and The Youth Foundation wanted to grow and expand but was in need of more funds.
“Some have wondered how things are going after the merge, and the answer is, it’s going well,” Rewold-Thuon said.
Existing programs, most in partnership with the Eagle County school district, that have grown include the First Notes Orchestra Program, which is now at four schools. After school programs, which offer affordable tutoring and enrichment for school-aged kids, has also seen significant growth.
The ever popular Copa soccer program involved nearly 600 kids ages 3 through 18 this summer, allowing the kids to get ahead on academics while getting the opportunity to play in a soccer league.
In addition, The Youth Foundation was able to offer more significant scholarships for kindergartners to attend a full day of school. There are currently 293 kindergarten students on scholarship at Eagle County public schools.
Early childhood through high school
With new initiatives in early childhood education, there are exciting times ahead for The Youth Foundation, organizers said.
The no-cost Magic School Bus is one of many pre-K programs the organization offers, all aimed at giving kids the best possible start when they get to school. This year, the school bus got a new renovation, plus a new focus that has a smaller group of kids coming for longer learning sessions.
The Great Start program targets kids in the summer before they go to kindergarten — Rewold-Thuon describes it as “kindergarten boot camp.” The program is low to no cost for parents.
“We’ve always thought that a dollar spent early in a child’s life will give far better return than a dollar spent less, so we want to focus on early education and get these kids off to a great start,” said Harry Frampton, chairman of the Vail Valley Foundation board.
Rewold-Thuon said the pre-K programs are especially important in today’s economy, when many parents can’t afford the cost of preschool.
“You’d think it was low income families who don’t have access to preschool, but we’re also finding it’s middle income families,” she said. “Over the last few years, the costs have been very expensive for some families, and some parents have lost a job.”
In the next few years, expect to see The Youth Foundation have more of a presence in high schools. Some programs currently only available for younger kids will expand to high school, and Rewold-Thuon said the long-term goal is to have every child in Eagle County involved in Youth Foundation programs at some point in their education.
Frampton said the Vail Valley Foundation is also working on a forum that would bring some of the best educators from around the world to the valley to share best practices. The summit event could happen as early as 2016, he said.
Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 and at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @mwongvail.