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School Stories

Welcome to Camp Roots: A Graland Community Partnership

By Molly Johnson, Communications Manager
During any given point in the school year at Graland, one can walk down the hallways and feel the energy and excitement of young learners ready to take on a new day full of adventures and discoveries. While summertime at some schools could leave the grounds feeling quiet, at Graland, summer programs such as Camp Roots keep the vibrancy and magic alive all year long. In line with the school’s mission to cultivate compassion by caring for others in our community, Graland began hosting Camp Roots in 2021 to serve migrant students from a variety of metro public schools enrolled in the Metro Migrant Education Program. Thanks to the dedication and support of several partners, including the Jewish Community Center (JCC), local public school teachers, coordinators from the Metro Migrant Education Program, and Graland faculty and staff, Camp Roots recently finished its second summer of programming at Graland.
The Partnership & History Behind Camp Roots
“The partnership between Graland, the Jewish Community Center, and the Metro Migrant Education Program is important because it fulfills the school’s mission and guiding principles. It makes me think about the quote from our founding headmistress Georgia Nelson, ‘To lead, to follow, and to share,’ because I really believe that we have so much to share beyond the Graland community.” - Carrie VonderHaar, Graland Master Teacher and Camp Roots Coordinator

Under the Colorado Department of Education, the Metro Migrant Education Program works to identify, recruit, and support migrant families in the Denver metro area and various metro public school districts to ensure that migratory children (from birth to age 21) are provided the services and opportunities they need to achieve their educational goals. To effectively accomplish this mission, the Metro Migrant Education Program relies on its partnerships with state and local agencies as well as schools (such as Graland) to provide the effective services and programming that migrant children need to succeed in elementary school, high school, and beyond. For the past two years, Graland, the Metro Migrant Education Program, and the JCC have worked together to host Camp Roots, a program designed for migrant students to receive one-on-one learning opportunities to prevent summer learning loss, prepare for the upcoming school year, and participate in enrichment and life skill activities, such as swimming. 

The Camp Experience & Its Impact 
A summer day at Camp Roots starts with children receiving transportation to Graland’s campus to alleviate stress for working families. Upon their arrival, campers are greeted by Camp Roots teachers and counselors, including Olympia Frascone-Stefanski, a consultant with the Department of Education for Migrant Education and a Cherry Creek School District teacher with 22 years of experience. When discussing the Camp Roots experience with Mrs. Frascone-Stefanski, she will tell you it’s a carefully coordinated balance of academic enrichment and fun. “During a typical day at Camp Roots, the kids arrive via bus from their homes and meet in Graland’s dining hall for breakfast. We join the JCC’s Camp Shai for morning meetings, where our kids are able to build new friendships and relationships with the kids and counselors from the JCC. After morning meeting, we head to the classroom to do our academic portion of the day,” Mrs. Frascone-Stefanski said. To prepare for this portion of the camp, Ms. Frascone-Stefanski and other Camp Roots teachers work with the kids’ metro public school teachers to learn more about their interests, strengths, and potential areas of growth to make their programming as effective as possible. “The Camp Roots teachers work with students in a variety of content areas,” Mrs. Frascone-Stefanski said. “We definitely focus on literacy and mathematics but do some work in social studies and science as well. This is important because it gives the kids the opportunity to stay engaged in academics during the summer.” 

Guillermo Barriga, a coordinator from the Metro Migrant Education Program, agrees with Mrs. Frascone-Stefanski that the academic portion of Camp Roots is crucial not only to the Metro Migrant Education Program’s mission but to the students’ future success. “The kids participating in the Camp Roots program all come from different backgrounds. A lot of them are immigrants themselves, or their parents are immigrants. We have families in our program from Mexico, Venezuela, and Burma,” Mr. Barriga said. “Many of the families are more recent arrivals who are trying to navigate lots of challenges, including the education system in the U.S., which is why it is very important to offer them this opportunity. We know [in the Metro Migrant Education Program] that if our students are not engaging in academic pursuits in the summer, there’s a big chance they’re going to fall behind. This can cause our kids to drop out when they get to high school, which is why it’s very important for the kids, early on, to have something like Camp Roots to participate in during the summer that is academic in nature but also fun.”

As for the recreational piece of the program, every day at Camp Roots is filled with new experiences and fun in the sun. This would not be possible without the essential partnership of the JCC’s Camp Shai, which provides joy to campers through their daily programming and invitation to swim at the JCC aquatics center - a favorite activity among the Camp Roots kids! According to Juan Botello, Graland’s director of finance and operations, “The feedback from our participating Camp Roots families emphasizes the value of providing a complete experience that focuses both on academics and camp activities. This well-rounded program would not be possible without the JCC’s partnership. Because the JCC has been conducting summer camps at Graland’s campus for over six years, they were a natural partner for us to offer joint programming to Camp Roots students.” 

The Future
As for what the future holds for Camp Roots, many involved in the partnership will tell you it’s looking bright. “Something I want our community to know about the Camp Roots and Graland partnership is that even though the program started small with 10-12 kids at most, it has already grown to 20 kids and will take on more students in 2024. Going forward, I am excited for our school community members, including the board, teachers, students, and families, to learn more about Camp Roots, its positive impacts, and all that the Camp Roots community has done for us, too,” Gaby Jaquez Perez, controller in Graland’s business office and Camp Roots coordinator said. Courtney Jacobson, the general manager of the JCC’s Camp Shai, added, “I think the partnership is special, and I’m really excited to see where it goes. I know we have a lot of happy kids that go home at the end of the day, some that may not have been able to come to camp or know about the JCC otherwise. I hope in the years to come, we can continue to leave our mark on these kids in a really positive way that includes a great camp experience.” And finally, according to Mr. Botello, “this is just the beginning” for Camp Roots. “When it came time to pilot the Camp Roots program on campus, we knew we wanted to start small and see how far it could go,” Mr. Botello said. “In terms of what’s to come, we’ve been in conversations with national organizations who run similar programs across the country and are looking forward to learning, growing, transitioning, and taking advantage of additional partnerships for Camp Roots in the future.”
Keep an eye out for more information on Camp Roots and its growth in upcoming publications. 

Graland Country Day School

Graland Country Day School is a private school in Denver, Colorado, serving students in preschool, kindergarten, elementary, and middle school. Founded in Denver in 1927, Graland incorporates a rich, experiential learning approach in a traditional classroom setting, emphasizing the development of globally and socially conscious leaders who excel academically.