Nancy Hvambsal, a Title 1 reading aid, works with second-graders Monday at Soda Creek Elementary School.  Steamboat Springs, South Routt and Hayden school districts are applying for a $150,00 grant from Mile High United Way that would bring more literacy coaches into each of the county's elementary schools.

Photo by John F. Russell

Nancy Hvambsal, a Title 1 reading aid, works with second-graders Monday at Soda Creek Elementary School. Steamboat Springs, South Routt and Hayden school districts are applying for a $150,00 grant from Mile High United Way that would bring more literacy coaches into each of the county's elementary schools.

Routt County school districts focus on literacy

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Second-grader Reilly Ladd works on her reading Monday with Title 1 teaching para-professional Nancy Hvambsal at Soda Creek Elementary School. Steamboat Springs, South Routt and Hayden school districts are applying for a $150,00 grant from Mile High United Way that would bring more literacy coaches into the county’s elementary schools.

— In a small classroom at Soda Creek Elementary School on Monday afternoon, Meghan Alexander helped a group of second-graders learn how to read the difference between the words “pain” and “pin,” “meal” and “mail,” and “mouth” and “moth.”

It took some repetition and some drawing of the words in the air, but the five students eventually were able to correctly recite the words when Alexander revealed them on flash cards.

“Very good,” the Title 1 teacher said after every breakthrough.

Officials of the Steamboat Springs, Hayden and South Routt school districts this week are working to finish an application for a $150,000 grant from Mile High United Way the districts say will benefit teachers like Alexander and the kindergarten through third-grade students they teach. And if the grant request is successful, all four public elementary schools in Routt County next year will host a dedicated literacy coach who will work at the schools to ensure students are able to read proficiently before they leave the third grade.

“There’s all kinds of research out there that indicates it’s very important for children to read by the third grade, and if they haven’t, it becomes increasingly difficult to get them to that proficient reading level,” Steamboat Superintendent Brad Meeks said. “That’s why we’re pushing for this grant. I think it’s going to be valuable for all of Routt County, and I’m excited to be working with the other school districts to try and make this happen.”

Recognizing the need

Soda Creek Principal Michele Miller said Monday that although Steamboat’s elementary school students score well on their Colorado Student Assessment Program reading tests that begin in the third grade, local assessments have shown about 20 to 25 percent of Soda Creek’s first- through third-graders are not reading at a proficient level.

“A literacy coach could help us not only with small numbers of children, but also with our whole curriculum so that kids are all getting great instruction,” Miller said. “We’re increasingly facing more and more challenges in education in general with budget cuts and families facing more complex issues at home. There’s so much more a teacher is responsible for now. The more support we can provide them, the more successful the kids are going to be.”

Meeks said the goal of the grant would be to move 15 percent of the Kindergarten through third-grade students in Steamboat who are not proficient in reading in 2012 to a proficient or advanced level by February 2013.

Meeks and Hayden Superintendent Mike Luppes and South Routt Superintendent Scott Mader began working together on the grant application shortly after the funding opportunity was announced during a event at Strawberry Park Elementary School where Colorado Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia told a group of Routt County educators that too many students in the state are not reading proficiently as they leave the third grade.

Meeks said the grant will be used specifically to eliminate performance gaps seen in the district’s poverty and minority students. According a Colorado Department of Education analysis of the district’s most recent CSAP math and reading data, 88.6 percent of Steamboat’s non-poverty students are proficient and advanced in reading, while 65.9 percent of poverty students are at that same level. Meeks said the addition of a literacy coach also would give English Language Learner teachers more tools to teach an increasing number of students in the district that are just starting to learn English. The district’s ELL population has grown from 65 students in 2006 to 133 this year.

Finding the funding

The Steamboat Springs Education Fund Board, which each year distributes revenue from a half cent sales tax, last month voiced to support the grant, and on Wednesday, its 13-member commission that weighs grants requests voted unanimously to recommend that the board next month vote to provide the $150,000 matching funds that would be necessary to receive the grant.

“This is something that hit strongly with the commission, and we’re excited it’s going to appeal to a wide range of children who are having trouble reading,” commission co-chairman Stuart Handloff said Monday. “This grant would basically help teachers better teach literacy. It’s almost a slam dunk from our perspective.”

Handloff and other EFB commission members have applauded recent efforts by three school district’s to apply for resources that, like the Mile High United Way literacy grant, would be shared.

The school districts are expected to submit their application for the grant by Nov. 30, and the Education Fund Board will hold a first reading of that grant and of its commission’s proposal to provide the $150,000 match at a Dec. 7 meeting.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com

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