Boulder Valley School District

Best in industry partnerships flourish at Sanchez Elementary

students doing activity
Carolyn Nohe

Walk into Alicia Sanchez Elementary after school ends and you wouldn’t see kids just sitting and talking or doing their homework. Instead, you will see students doing STEAM projects, dance, soccer, art, and nature study in the Dragon Discovery Afterschool program.

“My goal is to provide access to the best of every industry,” says Jovita Schiffer, Sanchez’s Partnership Coordinator. “I want the best for our students regardless if their family can afford it.”

And best they do get- FC Boulder provides soccer clinics, Arts Hub Lafayette leads dance classes, the Center for Musical Arts provides music classes, the Empowerment Center of East County provides art for social change, and Thorne Nature runs hands-on nature activities, among many others.

All of these are provided free of cost to Sanchez students. Programs are offered in 12-week blocks, Monday to Thursday, with students being able to enroll in up to 8 different classes–from nearly 20 offered each semester, letting them experience things they might not otherwise.

“Some kids have never been to the zoo,” says Schiffer. “ So we had the zoo come here and bring animals.”

One of the most sought after classes in the Dragon Discovery program is the EPIC Moviemakers Club. EPIC, which is focused on preparing future elementary school teachers, is funded primarily through the School of Education at CU Boulder. It has also received funding from donors, private foundations, corporations, the Office of Outreach and Engagement at CU Boulder, and the National Science Foundation. The program incorporates high tech, low-cost maker projects and tools to use with the kids. Students have been able to make stop motion videos and 3 D printing projects.

The EPIC program is co-designed by a team, which includes CU graduate students and faculty from the School of Education and staff from Sanchez. It is a practicum for undergraduate students interested in becoming elementary school teachers to put into practice what they are learning in the university classroom.

“In the university class, students study theories of learning and how to think about complex issues like racism and equity. In the afterschool program, in this space that we’ve intentionally designed around the principles they've studied in class, they have the chance to put theory into practice and use their experiences with children as a tool for deepening and challenging abstract theoretical ideas," says Susan Jurow, CU Boulder Education Professor and Director of the EPIC Teacher Education and After-School Program.

While the undergraduate students change from semester to semester, the elementary students at Sanchez keep returning. This allows the children to become experts at the practices of EPIC; the children can help newcomers to the club - the undergraduates - learn how to build on other people’s knowledge to solve problems together. This joint problem solving is the main purpose of the club and is something the program hopes that new teachers will be able to use in their future classrooms. 

“Kids really become teachers and that is by design. This is where people who want to become teachers can truly learn from kids,” says Jurow.

The partnership between Sanchez and CU Boulder has really blossomed over the years and much of that has to do with the dedication on both sides to investing in the partnership.

“While we agree that Sanchez kids always come first,” says Schiffer, “I am also invested in the CU students’ learning as well. That investment in each other’s success is what has really made this partnership work.”

BVSD has made enhancing and expanding partnerships a key initiative in the All Together for All Students Strategic Plan.

Says Schiffer, “All students should have access to partnerships like we have done here at Sanchez.”


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