Childhood literacy tour hits Garfield County |

Childhood literacy tour hits Garfield County

Kelley Cox Post Independent

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – Educators in two Garfield County communities had a chance to offer their thoughts Tuesday as part of Colorado Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia’s statewide tour this month focusing on successes and challenges in early childhood literacy.

“This is about how we make sure all of our kids are able to read,” Garcia said during an afternoon stop at Sopris Elementary School in Glenwood Springs.

“We know that 30 percent of our students leave third grade not being proficient in reading,” he said. “And when kids drop out by the time they get to high school, people tend to blame the school system.

“But what we’re not looking at is what happens with these kids before they even get to school age,” Garcia said.

The “listening tour” gathering in Glenwood Springs was attended by several local teachers, school administrators, school district officials and directors of various nonprofit programs aimed early childhood learning.

The tour also made a stop at the Rifle Library earlier in the day Tuesday, and will include 18 stops around the state over the next three weeks.

Joining Garcia on the tour is Mile High United Way CEO Christine Benero and several early childhood educators and library officials from around the state.

Mile High United Way recently received a $3.6 million Social Innovation Fund grant to boost literacy advancement programs in Colorado, and is inviting groups to apply for grant shares.

“This is ultimately about our long-term economic success as a state, which depends on a well-educated workforce,” Garcia said. “We’re working to come up with new state policies to support your successes.”

In Glenwood Springs and throughout the Roaring Fork Valley and Garfield County, there are many success stories.

One is the Raising A Reader program in area preschools, which introduces preschool-aged children to reading with its take-home book bags. A primary goal of the program is to get parents, siblings and other family members to read to children at home.

“One of our priorities is to reach some of the high-risk kids at an early age,” said Raising A Reader Executive Director Rick Blauvelt. The program is now expanding beyond preschools to include church groups, libraries and day care programs.

Local schools are also attempting to reach out to Spanish-speaking parents in different ways to encourage more reading interaction at home.

Sopris Elementary School Principal Kathy Whiting said her school’s “Cohort” group was successful in attracting most of its Spanish-speaking parents to a series of monthly meetings about how to enhance their children’s learning at home.

Glenwood Springs Elementary School ELL teacher Gisella Dillow explained how her school took that same kind of approach directly to some of its families.

“We took books and math games to their houses and gave them to the kids, and then taught [parents] how to play the games with their children,” she said.

Various nonprofit programs, such as the Family Resource Centers and the Family Visitor Programs, also partner with the local schools to offer assistance to low-income families.

And a representative from Spellbinders, which focuses on oral storytelling, emphasized the importance of the spoken word at even younger ages.

State Rep. Roger Wilson, D-Glenwood Springs, also attended the Glenwood Springs meeting. From a budget standpoint, education funding will be even more challenging this coming year, he said.

“To get the most out of education, we need to recognize that the early grades are so critical,” Wilson said. “If kids have the reading skills at that age, they have the key to all the opportunities they can take advantage of in life.”

Roaring Fork District Re-1 school board member Myles Rovig spoke to the importance of parenting. He suggested the literacy campaign focus on ways to assist parents in better preparing their children for school, rather than new state policies or mandates.

“Parents used to play more of a role, and now schools and society have tried to absorb more of this responsibility,” Rovig said. “We need to re-educate parents with the message that it’s their job to send their kid to school as ready to learn as they can.”

The tour continues today in Montrose and Ouray, and takes a swing through southeastern and eastern Colorado later this week.

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