The Other 60 Percent

Summer activities help bridge learning gap

Ronald Blan, 12, shows the roller coaster he designed in robotics class at Adams County Camp.

The contraption Ronald Blan designed and was proudly displaying seemed more ferris wheel than roller coaster – but when the designer is a 12-year-old from one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, such quibbles seem insignificant.

The point is, the 2-foot tall kinetic structure, set up in a classroom at Scott Carpenter Middle School in unincorporated Adams County, works.

“I’ve learned how to build a structure and make it spin,” said Blan. “I’ve had a lot of fun. I like technology. And I like roller coasters.”

Elsewhere in the school, youngsters were dabbling in computer technology to create a podcast. Others were working on their “downward-facing dog” stretch in yoga class. And others were preparing for that greatest of all childhood summertime joys, a trip to Water World.

Fighting summer learning loss

Adams County Camp is summer camp, with a twist. It’s all fun, yes, but camp organizers believe that what happens here this summer will impact these children and this community in profound ways for years to come.

Studies indicate that about two-thirds of the “achievement gap” between disadvantaged ninth-graders and their more financially well-off classmates can be explained by what happens – or fails to happen – over summer during their elementary school years.

First-graders at Adams County Camp sing a song while they prepare to go swimming.

Educators call this “summer slide” or “summer learning loss.”

“Research shows that poor kids may outlearn rich kids during the school year,” said Beverly Kingston, director of the Adams County Youth Initiative, which sponsors the camp. “But during the summer, it disappears.”

Now in its second year, the six-week Adams County Camp is serving 550 disadvantaged children in grades one through eight at three school-based locations.

Funded in part with a five-year, $8 million federal Safe Schools/Healthy Students grant, the camp is a collaboration among three Adams County school districts, the Hyland Hills Park and Recreation District, the Adams County Sheriff’s Office and Growing Home, a local care provider for the homeless.

Cost of camp minimal for families

The cost to campers is minimal: $15, viewed as a “commitment fee” after some of the campers in last year’s smaller but free pilot program attended only sporadically.

For that small investment, campers get academic enrichment activities and adventure outings unlike anything they’re likely to experience at home. Actual cost to run the camp is approximately $530 per camper.

Campers stretch as they learn yoga poses at Adams County Camp.

Youth program providers such as Mad Science, Kids Tek and Colorado Fusion Soccer Club bring their programs to the camp sites: Westminster School District’s Carpenter and Shaw Heights middle schools, and Adams City Middle School in Commerce City.

Because the camps are located at schools with summer feeding programs, free breakfast and lunch is available to all campers and most take advantage of that perk.

Counselors, mostly college students, supervise, mentor and lead activities in the four areas the camp emphasizes: sports, arts, technology and service.

Field trips to the Denver Museum of Science and Nature, Colorado School of Mines, the Denver Zoo, Adventure Golf and a Colorado Rockies game round out the program.

“A lot of our kids never get more than four blocks away from home,” said Kingston.

Of the 550 campers this year, 78 percent are minority and 77 percent are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, a typical measurement of poverty. Half the campers come from homes where their parents have a high school diploma or less.

Impact seen from first year

Last year, in its first year, the camp served some 185 children at Carpenter Middle School. The campers came from 26 different Adams County schools. While school officials did not evaluate campers’ later test scores, other measures seem to indicate the camp had a positive impact.

To learn more

Visit the Adams County Youth Initiative’s online library of research materials on best practices for at-risk youth.

See the 2009 Adams County Student Survey, administered by the Adams County Youth Initiative last fall to 27,770 students.

Read this brief, “Summer Can Set Kids on the Right – or Wrong – Course,” from the National Summer Learning Association.

“We definitely started school on a much more positive note last year,” said Carpenter Principal Kelly Williams. “It was a very successful school year. A lot of different factors went into that, but I know the camp had something to do with it. Discipline problems were cut in half last year.”

Indeed, juvenile crime reports within a 2-mile radius of the school were down dramatically last summer — from 1,178 during the summer of 2008 to 876 in the summer of 2009.

Kingston said this year, schools will look at student test scores to see what sort of impact the summer camp experiences has had on summer learning loss.

“This is a great gem that’s happening in Adams County,” said Becky Hoffman, manager of community initiatives for ACYI.

Hoffman hopes that publicizing the camp will lead to more community backing. The camp needs books. It needs more recreational equipment. It needs donated snacks for the children. It needs donors to sponsor individual campers.

Come fall, ACYI will organize an Adams Camp Community Board to begin oversight of the camp and increase community participation, she said.

Rebecca Jones can be reached at

Starting young

These 11-year-old Brooklyn students are asking New York City to do something about segregated schools

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Matilda and Eliza Seki, left, and their friends Noa and Benji Weiss, right, collected signatures at a district 15 meeting to discuss middle school integration efforts.

While they learned about the history of segregation, a group of Brooklyn 11-year-olds took a good look around their classrooms and realized their schools weren’t so different from the photos in their textbooks.

So Matilda and Eliza Seki paired up with their friends Noa and Benji Weiss — two sets of twins — and decided to do something about it. They launched a petition on calling on the city to integrate its schools.

“We learned about separate and equal in the civil rights movement, and that it was not equal,” Eliza said, referring to the “separate but equal” legal doctrine once used to justify segregation. “And since there are schools with people of only one race, and it’s all separated, it cannot be equal.”

Matilda and Eliza are in the sixth grade at M.S. 839, and Noa and Benji are fifth-graders at P.S. 10. They already have a bit of experience in activism, having joined the Women’s March in D.C., and helping to lead environmental clubs at their school. They hold sophisticated views for kids their age, and are aware of the hurdles ingrained in addressing school segregation.

Describing how housing patterns can tie into school quality, Benji began his thoughts by saying: “Let’s say you’re from a different culture or race and you don’t have as much money as other people do — because we still live in a racist country — and you’re in an area where the housing is cheaper but you don’t have as good schools.”

Across New York City, adults have debated how to spur integration in the country’s largest school system — and one of the most segregated. According to one recent analysis, the city’s most selective high schools enroll 84 percent white and Asian students, even though those groups make up only 30 percent of the city’s student enrollment.

But student-organized groups have also been at the forefront of a grassroots movement for more diverse schools. The work of budding advocates Matilda, Eliza, Noa and Benji caught the attention of some those groups, and they’ve now joined the ranks of Teens Take Charge and IntegrateNYC as some of the youngest members. The changes they’d like to see go beyond admissions policies, but also include a push for additional resources for underserved schools, hiring more teachers of color and curricula that reflects all students and cultures.

“We decided it was an important issue and we wanted to help fix it,” Noa said.

Matilda added: “Our schools should look like our city.”

Their schools are in District 15, where 81 percent of white students are concentrated in just three of the district’s most selective middle schools, according to an analysis by parents. The city has launched a series of public workshops to craft a new admissions model to integrate middle schools there, but these kids already have their own ideas for how to do that.

Benji, who is heading to middle school next year, said it would be “pretty good” if schools stopped picking students based on criteria such as class grades and attendance. Such “screening” contributes to segregation because of a number of factors — from which elementary schools students attend, to their parents’ ability to navigate the complicated admissions process.  

“It’s… important to learn about different peoples’ backgrounds, and religions, and cultures,” he said. “And also to make sure that all kids, no matter their race, religion or where they live can get the same, good education.”

Raised Voices

Balloons, hearts, and ‘die-ins’: How Colorado students marked National Walkout Day

Students gather at the Colorado State Capitol to protest gun violence. (Melanie Asmar)

Thousands of students across Colorado poured out of their schools Wednesday to protest gun violence and to remember 17 victims of last month’s deadly shooting in Florida. Chalkbeat’s Melanie Asmar walked with students from East High School to the Colorado State Capitol, where Gov. John Hickenlooper and Speaker of the House Cristanta Duran urged them to remain politically active.

The protests took different forms at other schools – and not everyone wanted the event to be political. There were balloon releases, voter registration drives, and public “die-ins” at major intersections. And in one Denver area school district, a surge of threats cast a pall over events.

Here’s a look at #NationalWalkoutDay from around the region.

Students at Skinner Middle School in northwest Denver marched in silent solidarity.

In Colorado, teenagers can register to vote before their 18th birthday.

At schools in the Adams 12 district north of Denver, a big uptick in threats the night before – and a warning letter from the superintendent – led many students to skip school altogether.

Students at McAuliffe International School in northeast Denver spoke with their shirts. Instead of “Thoughts & Prayers,” they asked for “Policy & Change.”

But their event was not all about politics. They formed a heart with their bodies and read the names of the dead.

At Jefferson Jr./Sr. High School, students promised to work to change school culture.

Many schools released balloons to honor the victims and found other ways to advocate for change.

Unlike some Colorado districts, St. Vrain didn’t officially condone the walkouts, but students at Longmont schools walked out anyway.

Students at Denver’s South High School have been vocal about gun violence. In a recent visit from U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, they rejected the idea that armed teachers would make them safer and demanded that lawmakers do more.

Students from one of Colorado’s KIPP charter schools used their bodies to send a message at a major intersection in west Denver.

Students of color in Denver reminded the public that gun violence is not limited to mass shootings.

Students aren’t just marching. They’re also writing their representatives. State Rep. Faith Winter, a Westminster Democrat, tweeted a picture of her inbox full of emails from students.

Colorado carries the legacy of the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School, where a memorial asks urgently as ever: “How have things changed; what have we learned?”