At Parr Elementary in Arvada, getting students engaged in school over the summer can be as easy as hands-on experience.

“Our program which we call JSEL, which stand for JeffCo Summer of Early Learning,” said Kim Ballantyne, assistant director in Curriculum and Instruction for Jefferson County Public Schools.

JSEL is a six-week intensive summer school program for students entering kindergarten thru students entering third grade. It focuses on increasing their literacy and math skills.

“We’ve done some research and it actually shows that not only kids don’t have that summer slide,” said Ballantyne, “but they actually come into school better than when they left in the spring.”

This week, the students are being shown animals like alpacas and chickens from a local 4H group to help them learn about writing.

“The kids are involved in what we call Discovery reading where they’re given books and they choose how they are going to engage with that book so the questions are what are you seeing, what are you wondering, what are you noticing?” Ballantyne explained. “And the connection with what’s going on here today is the fact that now they're getting to see, notice, and wonder about something live and then they take that same information and write about it.”

The program was designed seven years ago as a way to prevent literacy and math loss over the summer. It is funded by the Jefferson County Schools Foundation and is focused on helping students who come from challenged families.

“Many of these kids do come from poverty and we serve them breakfast and lunch so not only are these kids getting their minds nourished they're getting their tummies nourished,” said Ballantyne.

The district said students who are in JSEL for at least one year came back to school two and a half months ahead of their peers, which will hopefully help students like Lilliana Standley to be successful next fall.

“It will help me make sure that second grade is a little bit easier for me,” said Standley.

The summer program has an enrollment of about 900 students and is in seven locations across the district. They are getting students ready for school in the fall, with firsthand experiences they won’t forget.

“Reading leads to everything else and when kids can’t read, they can’t access all that important

curriculum that really takes them through adulthood,” said Ballantyne.