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Twilight Program celebrates first grad

JULIE SUTOR
Summit Daily/Julie Sutor Summit School District grad Aaron Cook gets a cake-cutting lesson Wednesday evening from assistant superintendent Peg Kastberg during his commencement celebration. Cook is the first Summit student to receive a high school diploma through the new Twilight Alternative Education program.
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SILVERTHORNE – September is not a month many associate with “Pomp and Circumstance.”But for Summit grad Aaron Cook, the famous processional tune is likely to conjure images of golden aspens and frosty lawns for years to come.Cook received his diploma Thursday night, and in doing so, made Summit School District history as the first graduate of the Twilight Alternative Education Program.”I feel great,” Cook said, gripping his leather-bound diploma. “I feel like a great weight has been lifted off my chest.”The school district launched the Twilight Program in February to provide an alternative setting for young people who have dropped out of high school. Cook and 20 fellow students met during the evenings throughout the winter, spring and summer in Summit Middle School classrooms to earn credits toward their diplomas.

Teacher Bill Baker offers one-on-one instruction and guidance tailored to each student’s credit needs. Twilight’s intimate setting and flexible hours make high school much more approachable for many students who didn’t succeed in the traditional high school environment.A year and a half ago, Cook ended up two credits shy of walking across the stage with the Summit High School class of 2003.”When I found out I wasn’t going to graduate, I felt like a failure. So when I found out about this Twilight Program, I jumped right in there and took a shot at it. I needed to prove to myself that I could get through it and get a diploma,” Cook said.Cook spent 40-60 hours each week pounding nails at construction sites while the sun was out.”After work, I’d go over and put in a few hours of school. Then I’d go home to bed and do it all over again. It was a long ride, but I came out valedictorian,” Cook said with a grin.

The new graduate hopes to continue his education by pursuing a degree in construction management.To earn his elusive two credits, Cook completed two substantial research projects on the Civil War and the Vietnam War.”The most memorable moment of working with Aaron was during that cold snap we had last winter,” Baker said. “It was at least 20 below during the day, and I was sure no students would show up. Lo and behold, Aaron walked in, brushing off the snow, and sat down to read Bruce Catton’s ‘The Civil War.'”Cook’s diploma was undoubtedly a personal milestone for a young man focused on his future. But his one-man commencement ceremony was also a landmark moment for the Twilight Program.”It’s our first success,” said assistant superintendent Peggy Kastberg, who has been instrumental in getting the program off the ground. “It’s just very heartwarming. I remember being there last night thinking, ‘Oh my God – this is so cool.'”

This semester, Baker has 14 part-time students and four full-time students enrolled in the Twilight Program, now housed in the Summit Education Center (formerly the old Silverthorne Elementary School). Kastberg said the Silverthorne location is especially well suited to Twilight students’ demographics.The robust autumn enrollment fully funds the program through the per-pupil allocation in Colorado’s School Finance Act. Kastberg plans to take Twilight to the next level by hiring a bilingual outreach coordinator to better recruit Spanish-speaking students.”It’s a chaotic world these young people live in. It’s great we’re able to meet them half-way,” Baker said.Julie Sutor can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 203 or jsutor@summitdaily.com.


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