Two programs on the Western Slope of Colorado are preparing first-generation students for college, thanks to support from CU Boulder.
The Roaring Fork and Summit County pre-collegiate programs provide first-generation middle and high school students in their communities with mentoring, academic skills and other tools to help them graduate from high school, enroll in college and graduate from college.
The Roaring Fork program started in 2004 as a partnership between CU Boulder’s Office for Diversity, Equity, and Community Engagement, Colorado Mountain College, the Roaring Fork School District and the Aspen Community Foundation. The Summit County program started in 2009 and partners with the two colleges, Summit School District, the Summit Foundation and Vail Resorts Epic Promise.
Both programs have an impressive track record, with 100 percent of seniors graduating from high school and being accepted to college. In addition, about 70 percent of students from the Roaring Fork program graduate from college. In Summit County, about 84 percent of participants graduate from college.
“Every student who is willing to work for his or her dreams deserves access to the education required to make those dreams a reality,” said Molly Griffith, program director for the Summit County program, which currently serves about 160 students in sixth through 12th grades.
“The process of deciding where you want to go in life can be overwhelming and confusing, and we are here to help students and parents navigate that process and connect with opportunities for success,” she said.
Students in the programs visit Colorado Mountain College and CU Boulder. In addition, juniors and seniors spend two weeks at CU Boulder during the summer for what many refer to as “academic boot camp.” Students take four academic classes taught by college professors and high school teachers, live in dorms and enroll in seminars that focus on college readiness and applying for college. All students who participate in the program are expected to apply to college.
Keyla Contreras, a senior at Glenwood Springs High School who wants to study psychology in college, said attending the camp at CU Boulder for two summers has given her the push she needs to reach her goals.
“Coming here gave me a real-world college experience and taught me how to cope with hard classes. I felt prepared for my classes when I went back to high school,” said Keyla, whose parents didn’t go to college.
“My dad works ridiculous hours. At one point he had three jobs. My parents have told us that you have to go for it, that nobody and nothing is going to wait for you,” she said.
Peer counselors – all of whom were in the program in high school and are now in college, many at CU Boulder – provided tutoring and moral support to the high school students while on campus.
“I received so much help from the program. No one in my family had gone to a four-year college,” said Carlos Lopez, a sophomore business student at CU Boulder who was part of the Summit County program when he was at Summit High School.
“I wanted to give back to the program, to help students reach their goals. I love being an example of how they can do it,” he added.
It's the cyclical nature of these programs and the desire for participants to give back that makes these programs so special.
“We have unbelievably amazing students in the program, and our goal is to level the playing field to make sure they know that college is possible for them,” said David Smith, executive director of the Roaring Fork program, which serves about 300 students in seventh through 12th grades. “The program is successful because of the dedication of our volunteer mentors, who provide constant encouragement and really help guide students to realize their potential.”