Supporting kids from cradle to career

This week's column was co-authored with Melisa Rewold-Thuon, vice president of education with YouthPower365.

Nearly everyone has heard the saying, "It takes a village to raise a child." Well, it's absolutely true when it comes to educating children. Our approach relies on both in-school and out-of-school efforts and the collaboration of key organizations to provide multiple layers of services for children in our community.

In Eagle County Schools, we use an idea taken from business called "benchmarking," where we catalog the practices of best performing systems and then consider how those can be implemented in our context.

Through this benchmarking exercise, we often see a strong focus on in-school efforts. These include high standards and expectations for academic achievement, raising educator quality through professionalizing teaching and building customized learning systems that tailor instruction and supports to students.

However, it's important to remember that out-of-school factors can have an even larger effect on learning than in-school factors (an idea supported by decades of research).
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Student poverty is perhaps our greatest challenge, however it is not an insurmountable obstacle. Poverty affects children by varying degrees, and it presents real differences with the kinds of skills and problems students bring into schools. It has an impact on other areas of life such as nutrition, health and the levels of stress with which students live.

Addressing outside-of-school-day issues is done by programming called "wraparound services." Wraparound services are designed to mitigate the barriers to a child's success by using community partnerships to provide services that align with work of the school. These services often occur at the schools or near the schools and include:

• Primary health, mental health, dental care.

• Family engagement, including adult education.

• Preschool learning.

• Academic enrichment.

• Expanded after school learning time or summer programming.

• Mentoring.

• Post-secondary education and career awareness.

Enter YouthPower365. YouthPower365 is a very effective resource that has been addressing nearly all of these wraparound issues in our community via their comprehensive cradle-to-career programs for the past 19 years.

YouthPower365 annually provides more than $3.5 million dollars of wraparound service programming for the youth of our community. They run early childhood and K-12 academic, enrichment and scholarship programs for more than 4,000 children and are embarking on mentoring and college and career preparation programs. All of YouthPower365 programs support family engagement in their child's education.

YouthPower365's PwrUp Early Childhood programs prepare children ages 0-5 in need and their families to be kindergarten ready. Three key programs in YouthPower365's PwrUp are the Magic Bus, Success at Six and Parent Mentors.

The Magic Bus mobile preschool program provides licensed early childhood education programming to children that are not able to attend traditional preschool and brings the learning to our valley's neighborhoods.

Success at Six has provided more than $3 million in kindergarten scholarships throughout the past 15 years to assure all students in our district have the opportunity to attend full day kindergarten.

YouthPower365's Parent Mentor program trains and supports Spanish-speaking parents to serve as year-long volunteers in our primary grade classrooms and provides quality early childhood educational programming during volunteer times for their children.

The largest family of YouthPower365 programs — and the one that supports the most Eagle County Schools students — is PwrHrs, serving 3,800 youth in grades K-12. PwrHrs programs improve children's achievement and engagement in school through extended learning opportunities.

PwrHrs afterschool and summer programs marked a recent achievement: they are now available for students in all of our schools. They provide a safe place where kids receive academic support from classroom teachers in small groups and participate in a variety of enrichments that support physical well-being, social-emotional growth and 21st century skills.

PwrHrs Summer serves as our district's summer school programming, giving academic and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) experience in a camp-style environment.

A wide variety of other programs fall under PwrHrs and include: Girl PowHER, COPA soccer, Celebrate the Beat, Academic Soccer, Sowing Seeds, anti-bullying and music education.

Rounding out the cradle-to-career pathway are the PwrOn Career and College programs. These include Dollars for Scholars college scholarships and an important partnership supporting our CareerX student internships. In the near future, mentoring programs and college access programming will also be added.

As parents ourselves, we try to teach our children the importance of being grateful for the good things we have in our lives. There can be no doubt that the futures of Eagle County's kids and families are better because of the services YouthPower365 brings to our community.