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Jeffco schools win four-year grant to improve literacy

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By Emile Hallez

A $485,000 four-year grant designed to improve childhood literacy will fund a new summer reading program at four of the county’s most poverty-stricken elementary schools.

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Mile High United Way awarded the matching-fund grant last week to the Jefferson Foundation, an independent nonprofit that supports Jeffco Public Schools. Along with a $121,000 first-year contribution from the Salazar Family Foundation and upcoming fund-raising efforts, the amount will total $970,000, which will used to cover teacher pay and other expenses for the eight-week program.

The program will be implemented at Molholm and Lasley elementary schools in Lakewood as well as Edgewater and Swanson elementary schools. It aims to boost third-grade reading and writing proficiencies at the schools by at least 25 percent over four years.

“The design is really rather elegant,” said Jefferson Foundation executive director Katie Tiernan, explaining that the program mimics the existing three-hour literacy blocks integrated into school days. “We’re just extending it into the summer. So for the kids, it won’t look different than the regular school day.”

The classes will be staffed by teachers who already know the students and supported by numerous volunteers, including the Jeffco Spellbinders, a storytelling group that will challenge students to create their own stories as part of the local oral tradition.

Before and after each class, the schools will provide free meals to students and their families, an incentive Tiernan said could help foster family involvement in literacy.

“We want families to come into the buildings in the morning with their children. We want them to feel comfortable. Family is very important in terms of literacy,” Tiernan said.

Each school day will be different, and lessons will be tailored to each student’s reading level, she said.

The foundation estimates 420 students per year will be enrolled, and no eligible student will be turned away. The program, which runs from June 20 through Aug. 3, is open to any students who will be starting kindergarten through third grade.

“They’ll all get at least 90 hours of literacy programming every summer,” Tiernan said. “They’ll have 360 extra hours of literacy instruction by the time they sit down to take that third-grade reading test.”

All of the schools lie along the “Sheridan cooridor” and have high percentages of families on free or reduced-price lunches.

“These are schools that have a very high poverty rate,” Tiernan said. “A lot of the kids at these schools are learning English for the first time. With all the challenges these kids face, they walk into our kindergarten classrooms, and they’re already behind. … The upshot of the program is that we want our kids who struggle with reading the most to have extra classroom time, so we can close the achievement gap.”

 

Contact Emile Hallez at emile@evergreenco.comor 303-933-2233, ext. 22.