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Supporting Denver youth this summer

Editor’s note: This article was written by Kim Sia and Diana Romero Campbell. Sia is the President and CEO Colorado “I Have A Dream” Foundation and prior was the President & CEO of KIPP Colorado Schools. She was a member of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce Leadership Denver Class of 2021 and sits on the Board of Directors at University Prep and the Colorado League of Charter Schools. Romero Campbell has been the President & CEO of Scholars Unlimited for the past six years and is the Denver City Councilwoman-elect for District 4 in southeast Denver.

Now that the school year has ended, youth and families across the Denver metro area have the whole summer ahead of them. More then 7,000 youth in Denver will participate in comprehensive out-of-school time (OST) programs to fill their free time this summer.

The key to comprehensive OST summer programs is that they offer a safe, consistent, and positive environment daily for approximately six hours and for six to eight weeks. While there are various options available for Denver youth in the summer, very few are comprehensive programs that meet the consistency needs of working families.

The comprehensive OST programs and content-specific partners working across Denver this summer are focused on providing safe, reliable, and enriching opportunities for our city’s youth. With the ongoing conversations about safety, gun violence, and substance misuse, organizations like ours work proactively to prevent youth violence.

We connect youth with caring, trained team members who build long-lasting relationships with them and their families. According to reports analyzed by the Denver Afterschool Alliance, youth who consistently participate in high-quality summer and after-school programming (for at least 60 days per year of program attendance) have been shown to demonstrate increased on-time high school graduation rates, decreased chronic absenteeism, decreased youth violence and substance use, improved social and emotional skills, and accelerated math and reading gains.

Our organization, Colorado “I Have A Dream” Foundation, offers an enriching and regular option for families. Our six-week summer program runs daily at Westwood Opportunity Center in Southwest Denver and Z Place Opportunity Center in Far Northeast Denver.

Youth entering third through eighth grade this fall will spend each week focusing on a different career pathway, including artificial intelligence as part of STEM week, folklore and mythology as part of art week, health sciences, agriculture, architecture & construction, and transportation.

Each week, youth will complete project-based activities related to the weekly theme, hear from guest speakers, explore post-secondary education pathways to prepare them for various careers, and take weekly field trips to universities, museums, and other learning centers.

In addition, youth participate in daily social-emotional skill-building lessons and have access, when requested, to weekly one-on-one behavioral health therapy with one of our clinical team members. Youth also participate in enrichment activities such as chess, guitar lessons, creative writing, theater, poetry/spoken word, and sports led by partner organizations.

We are also fortunate to partner with the Spark Early Career Exploration Program through Denver Public Schools, which provides our middle school youth with an in-depth focus each week on career exploration.

For high school-aged youth, the summer programming looks different. During June and July, we offer full- and half-day pop-up events where youth can focus on leadership development, careers, and giving back to their community.

Opportunities include visiting state parks, exploring a forensics lab, doing outdoor clean-up, and higher education institution visits. These opportunities prepare high school youth for our weeklong Summer Academy that takes place from July 24 to 28 at Z Place Opportunity Center and July 31 to August 4 at Westwood Opportunity Center.

During Summer Academy, youth participate in team building, field trips, college & career readiness activities, a college tour, and preparing for the next year of high school.

For families looking for a more academically focused comprehensive OST summer program, another organization serving Denver’s youth at no cost to families is Scholars Unlimited and its Summer Scholars program. The school-based programs are located in throughout Denver, Aurora, Westminster, and Sheridan public schools. Summer Scholars’ six-week program takes place June 12 to July 21 and is focused on helping students experience a literacy boost, discover who they are, and gain abilities to help shape their lives.

Using a customized curriculum, the academic block helps scholars increase their literacy skills through participation in the following:

  • Targeted phonics interventions, including sound-blending, word decoding, and vocabulary building
  • Shared reading, which promotes vocabulary development, and comprehension
  • Project-based learning, a student-driven approach that deepens content learning and increases student engagement

In the afternoons, scholars experience multiple enrichment activities and field trips. in the afternoon, students participate in Next Generation City Builders (NGCB). This unique experience opens doors and creates hands-on STEM activities while introducing youth to STEM-related careers. NGCB taps into youth curiosity and provides hands-on STEM activities connecting several aspects of how our city is built.

Scholars Unlimited also offers Ready Scholars, a six-week kindergarten readiness summer program for children starting kindergarten in the fall. This full-day program focuses on developing age-appropriate social emotional, literacy, and STEM skills, with extended-day programming.

Colorado “I Have A Dream” Foundation and Scholars Unlimited are just two examples of the programs available to elementary, middle, and high school youth during the summer. Families can explore all of the options across Denver by visiting the Youth Program Locator, a database of youth programs and family support services hosted by the City & County of Denver’s Office of Children’s Affairs and the Denver Afterschool Alliance.