Community group grants offer engaging, unique opportunities for Routt County public schools |

Community group grants offer engaging, unique opportunities for Routt County public schools

Ben Ingersoll

— Some things just can't be taught in a public school setting without a little help.

Whether it's because of financial constraints or the ever-growing need to adhere to strict state curriculum guidelines, extracurriculars can be pushed aside.

The Steamboat Springs Education Fund Board strives each year to use its community group grants to fill in those gaps and bring creative ways of learning to Routt County public school students.

For years, dollars have been set aside by the fund board for community groups that are directly invested in the three Routt County public school districts, providing hands-on, outside-the-box learning opportunities that still facilitate core standards.

But a couple of years ago, the community groups got a leg up when it came to requesting dollars from the grant commission, which makes recommendations that subsequently are approved or denied by the fund board. Now, instead of requesting money at the same time and from the same fund as the districts do each grant cycle, the community groups are allotted their own chunk of grant money based on what the commission can get approved.

In the 2013-14 school year, $70,000 was up for grabs. For 2014-15, $75,000 was granted to community groups such as Yampatika for its environmental literacy education program, Partners in Routt County for its school mentors, Rocky Mountain Youth Corps for its sixth-grade sciences as well as a new grantee — the Steamboat String Ensemble and Education group.

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Grants allotted by the fund board come from sales tax dollars.

"The reality is some of these programs that the community groups provide are something the district really can't," fund board President Kristi Brown said, noting the programs allow for educational opportunities without the district having to hire full- or part-time professionals.

Brown said the community groups grants have received their fair share of pushback from those vying for money each cycle with applicants and entities thinking grants should be set aside for the districts to distribute, especially during rough economic times.

The controversy has wavered a bit, Brown said, and community group programs more widely are accepted by the district teachers and students, she said.

"The way I look at it, the districts are kind of hamstrung by their finances — what they can reasonably do with a set amount of money and the staff's skill set," Brown said. "We have people in the community who are fantastically specialized and qualified in certain areas. What the community group programs do is allow some of that super-specialized knowledge to benefit kids in the school districts."

Brown said that community groups must have a program geared toward kindergarten through 12th-grade education in the county, and they must come with district support.

In January, the groups submitted their applications. The Yampa Valley Science School was granted $20,000. Partners in Routt County's school-based mentoring program received $35,000, and the Yampatika environmental literacy program got $15,000. The string ensemble and education program will get $5,000.

"The community groups provide an effective service to the schools," Yampatika Executive Director Sonja Macys said. "The truth of it is, the schools appreciate and value what we bring to the table, and we often do it in a cost-effective way."

To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll