Through a door at the back of the Summit Middle School library, students pass hundreds of old National Geographic magazines to enter “Narnia,” a small cove filled with board games, decorated with posters and pennants from Colorado colleges. The space is home to Sisley Milroy, who serves as the middle school representative for a growing pre-collegiate program.
The Pre-Collegiate of the Summit Program is a partnership between the school district, local universities and community partners, designed to assist and encourage first-generation college students. This year, the program expanded even further down into the middle school, opening up to sixth-grade students for the first time.
Milroy said the goal is not to make students choose a college or career path at such a young age, but rather encourage good habits.
“Here at the middle school level, we’re helping with grades, homework, studies, different life skills, so when they start high school, they start strong,” she said. “We’re teaching them high school is not time to catch up or learn how to study.”
At the high school level, the program also offers SAT and ACT prep, help writing college essays and education from mentors in the community. But every Monday after school, a handful of those high school students become the mentors themselves, helping the middle school Pre-Collegiates with homework.
Peer mentors Herson Olivares and Sebastian Ramos had their own finals to study for, but made sure to still volunteer their time along with other mentors the week before holiday break.
“It’s good to help out,” Olivares said.
The program, which lasts from after school at 2:30 p.m. until 5 p.m., incorporates an activity for the first half, to help the kids burn off some steam, Milroy said. On a recent Monday afternoon, teams of students built snowmen outside — upside-down ones, sunglasses-sporting ones, even a snowmom with her snowbaby.
“We just want these kids to succeed,” Milroy said. “It doesn’t have to be a four-year college, maybe someone wants to be an auto mechanic, go into cosmetology, we just want you to have a career — go to school and get an education.”
The middle school Pre-Collegiate students not only get to work and study, but also recently took a field trip to Denver to visit a college. Milroy said even though a fire alarm went off halfway through the presentation, the students loved getting to ask questions and learn firsthand what the college experience looks like.
“It’s not like, ‘You need to know what school you want to go to and what you’re going to study,’” she said. “At this level, we’re here to help you figure out, what are you good at, what do you enjoy?”
The Pre-Collegiate Development Program at Summit High School and Summit Middle School is supported by The Summit Foundation, Vail Resorts ECHO, Colorado Mountain College and the University of Colorado at Boulder.
After applications at the beginning of this school year — where Milroy said she presented to every class in school, including an auditorium full of the new sixth-grade class — the program didn’t get its start until late October or early November, she said. Now, with a few weeks under her belt, Milroy said once the students return from break, the program will really begin to take shape.
The students in the middle school Pre-Collegiate program are all academically motivated, but students all have their own success stories and struggles, Milroy said. The program offers bilingual support for Spanish-speaking students as well.
“It’s helpful for anyone,” Milroy said. “If you have a hard time with some subjects you can come here and be safe, we’re not grading you, we’re just here to help.”
Whether the middle schoolers are asking for math help from a high school mentor, learning math from Monopoly — if their work is finished, of course — or building snowmen and playing dodgeball, the skills they learn during the two-and-a-half hours after school, Milroy said, are what matter most.
“The students are getting used to thinking about the future and realizing middle school is important,” she said.