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Afterschool theater program uses ESSER funding

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Theater SilCo in Summit County offers a robust afterschool program thanks to ESSER III funding.

Theater SilCo in Summit County offers a robust afterschool program thanks to ESSER III funding.


Theatre SilCo in Silverthorne, formerly Lake Dillon Theatre Company, is filling an urgent need for after-school care in Summit County with $528,432 in grant funding from the ESSER III Expanded Learning Opportunities Grant Program.

The free dual-language VIVO After School Theatre program is available to all elementary-age students in Summit County at Dillon Valley, Silverthorne and Summit Cove Elementary schools with space reserved for families with the most need. Currently, the program serves 120 students, 105 of whom attend daily.

“Without this program, there isn’t another option for after-school care for families in Summit County and many families would be forced to make tough decisions about their future in our beautiful community,” according to the grant application. 

The idea for the VIVO program was born when Summit County approached the theater and other community organizations for help with the childcare crisis.

“We're not a childcare center, so we can't provide licensed childcare. But we have theater so we can provide that at no cost, thanks to the grant,” said Sara Rodriguez, program manager at Theatre SilCo. In addition to the funding provided by the ESSER Expanded Learning Opportunities grant, the program is also funded by Summit County and another state agency.

Theatre SilCo began the program in January 2022 with two teaching artists at Silverthorne Elementary and filled to capacity the first week. This school year the program has grown to three schools with eight teaching artists who provide a safe place for learning new skills, community building and social emotional growth.

In addition to filling a great need, another program goal is to give students a place to belong and build relationships after prolonged online learning took a toll on the mental health of the youth in Summit County. The Summit Daily News reported in February 2021 that children and adolescents in the area were experiencing an increase in anxiety and depression.

Teaching artists at VIVO work toward creating an emotionally safe and supportive environment, especially for students who are still building a sense of identity. Parents often share that their children have found a sense of belonging in the program that they haven’t had anywhere else.

“A lot of the benefits of theater are not necessarily for the art form itself. We're not necessarily trying to create a bunch of theater artists. It's great if we do, but it's really getting at things like teamwork and discipline and accountability,” Rodriguez said.

The success of the program is based on the development of life skills, rather than evaluations of performances. Through a wide variety of theater-based activities, teaching artists focus on building skills the students will need to thrive throughout their lives including self-confidence, teamwork, cultural awareness, accountability, creativity, curiosity, critical thinking, problem-solving, self-expression and public speaking.

The spectrum of what’s involved in theater is much wider than performing on a stage, Rodriguez said. Activities in the after-school program include puppet shows, games, playwriting, lighting and sound design and stage management. The hope is that students have fun without realizing how much they’re learning and developing new skills.

 “All of a sudden, when you look at someone doing a scene, or giving a presentation in school, you'll start thinking, ‘Wait, I'm going to have to write that, and someone has to memorize it.’ So someone had to create the visual aids or the prop that fits the scene, and someone has to decide, ‘Well, where are they going to be? What are they going to wear?’ Developmentally, it's really fascinating to see these kids after a few months.” Rodriguez said.

Sometimes the students discover a new appreciation of the arts. Rodriguez was surprised by the insightfulness of one student’s answer when a teaching artist asked the group what dance does for the theater.

 “This little kid, who had been in the program for a few months and knew nothing about theater when they started, said ‘Well, I guess because sometimes words aren't enough.’”