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RE-1 Pre-Collegiate Program enters new phase

Locations: News Published

By David D. Smith

The RE-1 school district is expanding its Pre-Collegiate Program, so The Sopris Sun asked three of those involved – an administrator, student and mentor – to talk about their views and involvement.

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The process of applying to and paying for college is daunting even for those with the best support systems. Navigating that gauntlet is usually more difficult for those students who are the first in their family trying to get a post-secondary education.

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Over 10 years ago, visionary leaders in the Roaring Fork School District recognized this dilemma and, with the help of community partners, formed the Roaring Fork Pre-Collegiate Program. The program is designed to provide additional support to those students in the Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt schools who would be the first in their family to go to college.  

The program offers academic and extracurricular enrichment through a volunteer-mentor based system. Mentors begin working with small groups of selected students in the seventh grade and stay with them through graduation. Many mentors build lifelong relationships with their “kids.” Through regular meetings, mentors help to introduce the concept of college. They work on nuts-and-bolts-like essays, resumes and college applications, and help students with financial aid and scholarship applications. The work is all geared towards establishing a culture and expectation of college attendance.

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In addition to mentoring, the other cornerstone of pre-collegiate is the summer residential program, made possible by the support of Colorado Mountain College and the University of Colorado. In the summers before ninth and 10th grade pre-collegiate students spend a week at the Spring Valley campus of CMC, staying in the dorms and taking classes. Before 11th and 12th grade the students are able to spend two weeks in residence at the campus of the University of Colorado at Boulder.  These summer programs are tremendously empowering for students, and many come back to high school able for the first time to really picture themselves in college and with a clearer vision and drive to attain that goal.  

Currently the program is serving over 200 students, thanks to the efforts of over 25 mentors. Students must be recommended to the program by a teacher or counselor.  Once accepted, the student must continue to meet high academic and community service obligations to remain in the program. Since its inception the program has had a 100 percent high school graduation rate and a 98 percent college attendance rate. Graduates of the program attend colleges from coast-to-coast and many are recipients of awards and scholarships like the Daniels Fund Scholarship, the Chick Evans Scholarship, and the Boettcher Scholarship.

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Until recently the program has operated with an executive director (currently Leslie Emerson) as the only full time employee, together with a part-time administrative assistant. Given the program’s success there have been “wait lists” created at many schools for students who may otherwise qualify for the program. Recognizing this need, members of the program’s Advisory Board, with the support of RFSD Superintendent Diana Sirko, approached the University of Colorado about expanding the program to meet demand.  University of Colorado President Bruce Benson agreed, and awarded the program a three-year financial gift to hire a full-time assistant director, create better mentor resources, and formalize and modernize to try to serve more students.  

It is an exciting time in the valley for college preparatory services. Roaring Fork School District’s strategic plan includes the express goal of ensuring that all students are ready to meet the needs of college or career upon graduation. The Aspen Community Foundation (a founding pre-collegiate partner) is embarking on its Cradle to Career initiative.  The Aspen Community Foundation also oversees the John Gold Pre-Collegiate Program Scholarship, which specifically provides financial support to pre-collegiate students. Pre-collegiate is another piece in this larger puzzle, and with the continued support of its partners, private donors and volunteers, pre-collegiate will strive to ensure that the barriers to college acceptance and attendance for first-generation students can and will be removed.

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For more information on the program, volunteering or giving, please visit or contact me at

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David D. Smith is assistant executive director for the RE-1 School District’s Pre-Collegiate Program.

Pre-Collegiate Program will “always believe in you”

By Yazmin Castillo

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Sopris Sun Intern

“This program will always believe you.” This is what Ingrid Gomez had to say about the Roaring Fork Pre-Collegiate Program, which caters to future first generation college students from Roaring Fork, Basalt and Glenwood Springs high schools. Along with other students, I have been involved in the program since my seventh grade year in Carbondale schools, and it has been a wonderful experience.

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During the middle school years the program exposes you to different careers and also prepares you to be successful in your upcoming years of high school. When the students enter high school, that’s when all the fun and hard work begins.

The Pre-Collegiate Program also offers four summer programs: two at Colorado Mountain College (which last a week) and two at the University of Colorado at Boulder campus (which last two weeks). I had the privilege to attend all of them. Not only were they a rewarding experience academically and socially, but it’s an involvement that I will carry and treasure my whole life.

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Students from Roaring Fork, Basalt and elsewhere participated in the Roaring Fork program this last June, where they got a glimpse of what college life will be like. Most of them being first generation college students, the experience was very beneficial in the college planning process.

I attended the University of Colorado Summer Pre-Collegiate program at Boulder, and it was one of my best years yet. I had the chance to be challenged academically, live on a college campus and meet new people. During the stay at CU-Boulder, not only do we stay with other students from around the Roaring Fork Valley, but our program pairs up with students from the Summit County Pre-Collegiate Program.

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“I like that they are there to help me when I am confused on what my next steps are going to be,” said Summit County senior Alex Veleta.

Pre-Collegiate is a phenomenal program. They open up doors for their students and will do anything for them to succeed. I will be starting school soon as a Roaring Fork senior, and I know that I would not be able to go into this school year confidently without the assistance of the Pre-Collegiate Program. Current high school students as well as many college graduates who have been part of Pre-Collegiate can say we owe everything to this program, and wish that it continues to help other students.

Pre-Collegiate volunteer “hooked” on helping

By Bonnie Cretti

Special to The Sopris Sun

I retired from full-time teaching at Roaring Fork High School in the spring of 2004. Within just a few weeks, I was contacted by the then-director of the Pre-Collegiate Program, Adriana Ayala, to see if I would be interested in becoming a volunteer mentor. Would I take on a group of freshmen at RFHS who had lost their mentor? For some prescient reason, I did not hesitate to say “yes.” Ten years and many re-inventions later, I am still hooked.

Pre-Collegiate is a microcosm of what could and maybe should be provided for all high-school students in the Roaring Fork School District. It provides mentoring, test preparation, access to opportunities, summer programs, parental support, and information about the entire college application process for its students. These advantages would benefit all students, but are only now available for those who qualify, who are first-generation college-bound and who show academic promise at some point between the sixth and 11th grades.

Yazmin Castillo is a wonderful example of the power of pre-collegiate. She will be entering her senior year at RFHS soon with skills, information, and motivation that could be at least in part a result of her participation in the Pre-Collegiate Program. The rest of the credit goes to Yazmin! She is unbelievably optimistic, responsible and willing, with a great grade-point average and accolades from her teachers. She is also part of a loving family that she treasures and that is supportive of her and the program. She is one of the 10 students in my current mentor group. Our weekly Thursday lunch-time meetings are a highlight of my week. This upcoming school year will be our last year together, but it will be a busy one. Yazmin and the others will be re-taking their ACT tests, choosing and applying to colleges, writing essays, obtaining teacher recommendations, figuring out the complexities of financial aid, and all the while participating in sports, school clubs and activities, their families, and of course, some demanding classes.

This is my third mentor group, and I know that I will stay in touch with many of them after they leave high school. It is one of the most rewarding parts of being involved in the Pre-Collegiate Program … following them after they are launched into the world and seeing where their hard work takes them.