These posts are the opinions of the writers and do not necessarily reflect the views of A+ Colorado.

Competitive soccer, folkloric dance, and drawing: DPS’ Beacons programs gave my family extracurricular hobbies growing up, and how you can learn about summer activities for your family.

As a father, I think about the socialization that my son so sorely needs, and the void that will need to be filled at the conclusion of the school year when school is out. My go-to when making adult decisions that impact children, is to put myself in their shoes. As summer approaches, parents and students are thinking about summer trips, camps and other activities – A hard task when so many are still affected academically and socially by the pandemic’s closures. 

As a child, I spent the vast majority of my summers in my grandfather’s cattle ranch in Mexico, learning how to grow and maintain corn crops and feed cattle. In the unlikely event that I was not in Mexico, I would do my best to stay active and outdoors with the kids in my neighborhood. During the school year, Monday and Tuesday nights were dedicated to Whiz Kids Tutoring, which was spearheaded by Pastor Rob. 

Pastor Rob would not only dedicate his evenings to the community but even in the summer he would gather the kids in the neighborhood to take them to Water World, do arts and crafts, and share a meal together. Thanks to Pastor Rob, I attended my first PGA tournament, the International at Castle Pines. 

DPS Beacons Program: Allowing free, safe spaces for students 

In middle school, I began to play competitive soccer. Lake Middle School had a Beacons program after school that allowed us to play sports. Lake was a neighborhood school that received a grant from the Department of Extended Learning. In 1999, the Department of Extended Learning received more than $4.5 million in grants to add, expand and enhance out-of-school time programs in elementary and middle schools throughout the district. 

These programs provided before and after school, weekend, evening and summer programs for students, parents and community members. Activities included  academic assistance, recreational programs, music, enrichment activities and adult education programs.   

The Beacons and Neighbor Centers were the program basis for this work, and were created in partnership between the Denver Public Schools and outside organizations to provide a broad range of quality programs for the youth they serve. One unique aspect of these programs is that each is managed by a community-based organization.

This DPS program facilitated Beacons and Neighborhood Centers in DPS middle schools, which gave me and so many of my peers the opportunity to stay busy and engaged during breaks. 

Since then, these programs have evolved and are now completely managed by a community-based organization.

Cole, Place and Noel and are managed by Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Denver and Lake is managed by Mi Casa Resource Center

Soccer, art, dance and more: How these programs change lives

The Beacon program at Lake allowed my peers and I easy access to competitive soccer with little to no cost to my family. It also paired me with a coach that I could relate to, who not only expressed care for my development as an athlete but cared more about my development as a young man. Coach Victor would always ask me how I was feeling and how things were going at home. He knew that my mom was a single mom of 4 at the time and tried to take me under his wing to coach me in soccer and life. I still reference coach Victor and his coaching as an adult, which goes to show his lasting impact on my life. 

My brother Charlie found his escape in elementary school. Charlie began to attend an after school program at Jose Valdez Elementary, with his teacher who was extremely artistic. He would stay after school with his friends to learn how to draw. Charlie became a talented artist and because of his teacher Mr. Mena. He would eventually graduate to spending weekends at the downtown library painting murals and having dinner with his friends and Mr. Mena. I was extremely jealous and tried to tag along especially after Charlie painted that mural downtown and had Asian for dinner, First time using chopsticks and eating sushi. After elementary school, Charlie would  carry a copy of Lowrider Arte magazine to develop his craft and emulate the art he was inspired by. 

My sister Abigail also found a passion at Valdez Elementary. Led by her Kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Parrish, Abby fell in love with Baile Folklorico or Folkloric Dance. A homage to our Mexican ancestry and culture, Abby was in awe the first time she observed classmates dancing to Mexican folk songs with colorful dresses swinging through the air and women with buns and flowers in their hair. 

I say all of that to say this. The benefits of extracurricular activities are many. To both adults and youth alike, it was a way to keep our mind distracted and busy on productive activities as opposed to mischief which can often be a result of boredom. It also gave us an opportunity to explore hobbies and become well rounded in activities that we wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to experience. 

Extracurricular activities taught us a lot about ourselves. Lastly and most importantly, it allowed us to build relationships with adults and peers who shared common interests. 

As the summer approaches, I would encourage everyone to either lead a summer program for youth or consider having your very own children participate in a summer program. A special thanks to foundations and donors for making these programs possible. 

Summer programs to explore 

Below you will find information about summer programs across the Denver metro area. These resources come in the form of guides and blogs as well as summer camp info from Denver Public Schools.

DPS Summer Camps 

Local Summer Camp Blog

Local Summer Camp Guide