Steamboat Springs When Colton Koler trained his eyes on the pages of a book early last year, he often lost his place in the narrative.
“I didn’t have a good attention span,” the Soroco Middle School seventh-grader said Thursday at recess during his first day back at school. “I would always lose where I was at, and it was frustrating.”
One year later, Colton has improved from a third-grade to a seventh-grade reading level. All he needed was a narrator, and some speakers to bring his favorite stories to life.
“When I started listening to books, it was easier to understand the words as I read along with a voice,” he said.
Colton is one of several students across Routt County and Northwest Colorado who have benefited from the arrival of new audiobooks and MP3 players in school libraries. The tech tools were obtained as part of a $9,000 grant secured by the Northwest Colorado Board of Cooperative Educational Services last year. The grant, which funded a program called Learning Everywhere with Alternatives to Print, has streamlined the availability of audio and e-books that can be downloaded from the internet onto a portable media device. And as Colton and other students who were previously slow readers see results from the program, their parents and teachers are celebrating with them.
“It did improve his reading quite a bit,” Colton’s father, John Koler, said. “The main goal of the program was to get him excited about reading, and that’s exactly what happened. We’re happy he’s more interested in books now.”
At Colton’s library at school, librarian Susan Rossi has significantly grown her collection of audiobooks available to her students since she received five MP3 players from the grant last year. Her digital list is now 97 books strong and includes titles that range from Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” to more modern favorites such as the “Twilight” series. Rossi said she’s enjoyed seeing students check out and listen to new titles.
“It’s amazing to see them be successful with something they were hesitant to do,” she said about some of her students’ newfound enthusiasm for reading. “The value of the grant is way more than we could put a dollar figure on.”
New ways to read
The audiobooks aren’t the only things transforming Rossi’s library. She said they’re only one of several major changes she has seen during her seven years at Soroco. While the Internet has thinned the magazine shelves and all but eradicated the need to pluck a heavy encyclopedia off a shelf, new equipment could also join the library’s stock of MP3 players.
“Another thing coming around are Nooks and eReaders that can make more books obsolete,” she said. BOCES is looking to bring more of those to schools next year.
As she promotes the grant she helped secure for area public libraries and six Northwestern Colorado school districts including Hayden, Steamboat Springs and South Routt, BOCES media specialist Julie Dalke said Thursday she’s hoping to land a $75,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to bring iPads, Nooks and other e-readers to more libraries next year.
“Our schools previously didn’t have enough players like these and access to titles,” she said. “We’re making it so that kids have access to the content they need to improve their reading.”
She said data collected from schools since the grant was introduced last year has shown that special education teachers who used the audio books in classrooms reported seeing an average of a 48 percent increase in their students’ reading assignment completion. Teachers also reported that some students who used the audio support increased their reading level by several grades.
While the grant has so far been targeted to aid students with reading disabilities, Steamboat Springs High School librarian Nicole DeCrette said the equipment is available to everyone.
She said the program has brought more students to her library looking to download audio books than she anticipated.
“It’s sometimes a bit cumbersome from a management standpoint because it has really taken off,” she said. “So far the grant has been a good thing and it has taken us exactly where we wanted to go.”
BOCES will find out Sept. 15 whether they will receive another grant for the LEAP program.