When the school year ends, many students look giddily toward the unstructured days of summer. But for some families, the end of school can also be a time of stress with limited services, structure and the childcare that they’ve come to rely on during the school year.
The Roaring Fork School District can help fill some of those gaps and connect families to resources. Their Family Services Department (Sarah Fedishen, 970-384-5695) is available all summer, as is the Family Resource Center’s family liaison Gissel Alvarez, (970 618-4137), who can help families with children of all ages Mondays through Wednesdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Alzarez, who speaks Spanish, helps families access everything from food and clothing to medical care and childcare. Alvarez is happy to bridge the gap for families and often assists families in accessing scholarships, discounts or even money for rent as well. Although Alvarez is new to her summer role this year, she expects to see many families searching for childcare and healthcare this summer.
While younger children may need daycare or camps, for older children, unfortunately, summer can be a time where they’re left at home for hours every day. That’s concerning for educators. Basalt Middle School Principal Jennifer Ellsperman spoke with one student who admitted to spending upwards of 14 hours a day gaming the previous summer. Roaring Fork School District prevention specialist Paul Hassel says that while there’s some comfort in knowing your child is at home, that level of screen time is unhealthy.
“If parents work, kids are literally left to their own ‘devices,’ ” says Hassel. “In small doses, this can be empowering. In large doses, it can be risky or even dangerous.”
Hassel recommends putting a limit of around two hours a day on screen time. Basalt High School Assistant Principal Megan Baiardo suggests families back up even further and create some universal ground rules at the start of the break. Structure and communication go a long way to setting up healthy expectations for summertime.
“Teens often suffer from boredom,” she says. “While they might seem hesitant to build structure into their summer, it is one of the best ways for them to stay busy, engaged and growing year round. It is important to have conversations with your teen right at the beginning of the summer about their responsibilities to themselves and their families over the summer months.”
For teens, Baiardo recommends encouraging daily activities outside the home that could range from getting a job to working on a driver’s license to getting certified as a babysitter or lifeguard. Other ways to stay busy include visits to the library, pool, parks, skate park or hiking the local trails. Hassel notes that for many students, RFTA offers an excellent way to develop some independence and also access activities and locations around the valley that they might not otherwise have access to.
In a BMS Get Ready for Summer Parent Coffeehouse earlier this year, the district’s Lindsay Hentschel discussed ways to set up agreements and expectations with children, which included asking students to set their own intentions for both their days and their whole summer down on paper. A video of that talk is still available on the BMS website.
Ellsperman hopes families will take advantage of all the regional resources, organizations and scholarships that the valley has to offer. Both BMS and BHS post lists of ideas on their websites. BMS, for instance, offers a list of regional summer activities by interest (under Important Announcements at bms.rfsd.k12.co.us).
“Leading up to the summer, we have worked hard to provide tons of access to resources through our Facebook and weekly newsletters,” says Ellsperman. “We hope that families take advantage of the tremendous opportunities available in this valley from the Aspen Institute and the Basalt Recreation programs to the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, the Art Base, Thunder River Theatre and so many more. There are endless options to keep our kids having fun and staying busy in healthy ways.”
Check out the library
One place that gears up to serve students every summer is the Basalt Regional Library (basaltlibrary.org), which offers a slew of free summer programming for students of all ages as well as a place for students to come hang out during the summer days.
“It’s about equal access,” says teen librarian Jay Austin. “One of the core tenets of a public library is equal access for all. So for instance, we’ll show Stranger Things this summer. Not everyone has a Netflix subscription. Everything we do is free and we’re there for the kids all summer long.”
The library offers opportunities for students to explore activities they might not otherwise have access to. The Fly Fishing Camp on June 26, for instance, exposes students to being out in nature and experiencing an activity apropos to where they live. Other events have a more familiar summertime flavor like Nerf gun and water days, mug and terrarium making, dance performances, and much more.
The library takes its summer role as a community hub seriously in other ways. In the summer months, food insecurity can be a huge issue for children who no longer have access to a free or reduced school breakfast or lunch. In addition to LiftUp (liftup.org) which distributes food in Carbondale, Basalt Regional Library offers free lunches on Tuesdays and Thursdays for students under the age of 18.
Although elementary and middle school students are the biggest visitors in the busy summer months, Austin wants teens and high schoolers to know they’re welcome at the library as well. “The teen library is a space that’s just for them where they can come and hang out, read books, and enjoy the space that we've tried to cater specifically to them.”
Austin also recommends that all students sign up for the Summer Reading Program. Not only does summer reading ward off a documented regression in reading skills over the summer months, but students also can enter raffles for prizes appropriate for all ages. At the teen level, those prizes include a drone, a Go-Pro style camera and a buddhaboard.
Baiardo wants families to know that although the school doors are closed, mental health services and community resources are still available in many places throughout the valley.
“At Basalt High School, we worry about our students and our community when school is not in session,” she says. “The community is encouraged to reach out if support is needed to the many great resources in the valley.”
The Family Resource Center, the Hope Center, MindSprings Health, Youthzone (925-5858 and youthzone.com), Safe2tell.com, and even the Basalt Police Department can all field requests for assistance. And while school may be out of session until mid-August, the district office remains open all summer long and may be reached at 970-384-6000.