About 50 of Niwot High’s new ninth-graders are spending 10 days getting a primer on algebra and high school language arts, along with learning ways to be their best selves through social and emotional learning lessons.

They’ll also start the school year knowing a few teachers and how to navigate through the building, as well as knowing more about  how high school works.

Niwot English teacher William Pankonin talks to transition students about a book they are reading. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

“You’ve eliminated a lot of the anxiety of those opening weeks of school,” Principal Eric Rauschkolb said. “It’s a great way to give freshmen a leg up.”

Students who complete the St. Vrain Valley School District’s JumpStart program, offered at all of its comprehensive high schools last week and this week, also earn a high school elective credit.

Districtwide, about 415 students enrolled this summer. St. Vrain provides the math and language arts curriculum, while giving each high school the freedom to design the other half of the full-day program. Funding for the program, which is free to participants, comes from federal coronavirus relief money and the district’s general fund.

Frederick High has the district’s largest JumpStart program, with about 140 of its 400-student freshman class enrolled, including incoming students in the school’s P-TECH program and the outside I Have a Dream program.

“It lets us start the year a little faster,” Principal Russell Fox said.

Christina Smith, who is leading JumpStart at Frederick, said the school has offered a version of the program for 10 years. Students who participate are less likely than their classmates to fail classes and more likely to graduate, she said.

“We want to make them feel welcomed,” she said. “We want them to meet staff, make friends and get a lot of freshmen skills. Finding an adult they can connect with, that’s the biggest contributor to feeling secure.”

This summer’s program offers a hands-on focus, from a math escape room to a robotics lesson to an egg drop. Students took a field trip to visit the University of Colorado Boulder campus, sampled classes offered at the Career Elevation and Technology Center, and asked questions of student and teacher panels.

“We try to have an element of fun,” Smith said.

At Niwot, students are divided into three groups for math, language arts, and social and emotional learning classes. The academics aren’t remedial lessons but instead are a preview of skills students will need in their fall classes, teachers said.

“A big part of the program is connection,” said Niwot High math teacher Megan Schlagel, who is leading the summer session. “We want these students to be comfortable in a high school environment before 1,300 students show up.”

In the social and emotional class, students on Wednesday played one game where the last person in a line of students had to draw phrases relayed down the line. For another game, the line tried to pass down a word by drawing on paper on each person’s back. The games were part of a lesson on teamwork and working in groups.

Students in the language arts talked about a short story they read about a foster child who found belonging through Native dance. Then they brainstormed ideas for an essay on who they want to become in high school.

Language arts teacher William Pankonin did a mock progress check with each student, assigning grades based on how many writing assignments they had completed.

“This is exactly what’s going to happen in your classes,” he said. “Eight teachers are going to assign you eight grades. Ask questions, don’t fall behind, and do every single activity.”

Several Niwot freshmen said spending 10 days of their summer vacation in class is worth it to feel better prepared for high school.

Jessica Fraire said she’s nervous about falling behind academically but excited for new experiences, including cheerleading.

“Here, you get to feel experienced before you get to high school,” she said.

Itzel Lepe said she’s coming from a middle school where students don’t generally enroll at Niwot, so she had never been inside the building and didn’t have friends going there.

“I wanted to recognize faces instead of just showing up not knowing anyone,” she said. “After this, I feel a little more confident in what it will be like.”

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Amy Bounds
2022-08-04 01:25:32
Boulder Daily Camera
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