Vail Daily column: Signs of success | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Signs of success

Mike Johnston
Valley Voices

At first glance, life in the Vail Valley may seem as idyllic as any storybook. In many ways, it is. The valley offers amazing views, engaged people and thriving businesses.

Just like anywhere else in the United States, however, Eagle County faces real challenges in the areas of education. While America has improved our performance throughout time, the hill we have to climb to keep up with the rest of the world continues to be steep, and the broad range of student needs requires educators to develop new skills and design new approaches.

Educators are being forced to do more with less. The state fails to meet its funding obligations to our local schools yet we rely on teachers to fill the emotional, behavioral and academic needs that extend beyond the traditional school day.

This valley has changed considerably since I was raised here in the ’90s, and not because the best thing to do on a Friday night is no longer to hang out in the Crossroads parking lot. Like many Eagle County kids, I remember with deep fondness a childhood here that was filled with ski training, hockey tournaments, volunteer programs and afterschool tutoring sessions.

But I also remember that even in Eagle County, not every kid had the same access to those opportunities. Many families struggled to make ends meet. For families across the economic spectrum, it has never been easy to find quality options for afterschool and summer childcare. For single parents or families with two working parents, these challenges are significant.

Afterschool gap and summer slide

While our schools work furiously to close achievement gaps from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., we all-too-often see regression during the non-school periods. We call this regression the afterschool gap and the summer slide. Research has shown that what is also called summer learning loss accounts for as much as two-thirds of the ninth-grade achievement gap in reading separating students from affluent families from their less-advantaged classmates.

As Eagle County Schools Superintendent Jason Glass has said, “We can and should hang on to the wonders of summer, but make learning part of the equation as well.”

One proven way we can do that is with our valley’s YouthPower365.

On July 14, I was honored to host this year’s Star Dancing Gala. This year’s theme was “Launching Our Future.” As always, it was one of the most enjoyable events of the year, and also a crucial fundraiser for YouthPower365, formerly known as the Youth Foundation.

YouthPower365 has raised the bar on what it means to truly take care of the young people in a community. With more than 15 programs from cradle-to-career, YouthPower365 has a proven track record of success through an array of programs targeted at distinct populations. Here are a few: GirlPowHER helps build confidence in our young women. Magic Bus travels through the county in the summer offering a free lending library and story time program for preschool kids who may not have ready access to books. Sowing Seeds teaches life sciences to kids from kindergarten to eighth-grade, integrating gardening and healthy food choices into the school curriculum. First Notes brings music education into our schools. And, of course, PwrHrs, which provides afterschool and summer education enrichment to thousands of Eagle County kids. Combined, YouthPower365’s programs have become a major force for good in the lives of more than 4,000 young people in Eagle County each year.

As far as we’ve come, we still have a long way to go. YouthPower365 aspires to provide programming to “Every Child, Every Day.” Doing so would enrich the lives of thousands more young people in this community, and would allow the parents of these children to know that there is a safe, individualized, caring environment where their kids can grow to their utmost potential. In the past few decades, I’ve worked with education organizations around the country, and seen inspiring work being done in communities from Mississippi to Mumbai and San Francisco to Singapore. In each of these places they are trying to solve the same challenge we are in Eagle County: How do we make world-class instruction and experiences available to all kids, not just in school but also in life? It is inspiring to know that some of the best work is being done right here in my hometown.

The partnership between Eagle County Schools and YouthPower365 is proof of what can happen when public and private organizations work in unison. It’s good for teachers, it’s good for parents and, most importantly, it’s good for students.

YouthPower365’s cradle-to-career pathway and its ambitious “every child every day” mission is unlike any other commitment I have seen. Pair that with the talent and dedication of the Eagle County School District and YouthPower365 teachers, and it creates the kind of environment that changes lives for the better and creates a brighter future for us all.

The folks I’ve met at YouthPower365 are incredible. Together with their relentless commitment to kids and the more-than $300,000 of in-kind support they receive from the Vail Valley Foundation each year, this organization has shown how to translate each dollar raised into a real service provided to a child.

Eagle County has a chance to be a beacon to the world, not just for its natural beauty or world-class skiing, but as one of the leading examples of public-private partnerships that have come together to ensure opportunity for every child every day. Whether you could attend the Star Dancing Gala, or you would like to give back to your community, or volunteer your time, please join me in continuing to support YouthPower365 and helping “Launch Our Future” in Eagle County.

This month, the Vail Valley Foundation’s “Making It Possible” column comes from Vail native State Sen. Mike Johnston (District 33), who emceed YouthPower365’s Star Dancing Gala July 14 at the Vail Valley Jet Center. Johnston was part of President Obama’s education advisory committee in 2008, and was recently noted in the New York Times as one of the top young politicians in the country and a possible successor to Gov. John Hickenlooper.