Steamboat Montessori School receives RISE grant to boost student engagement

Steamboat Montessori School was part of a group of 13 charter schools to secure a state grant to help increase student engagement.(Photo by Dylan Anderson)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Steamboat Montessori School is part of a group with a dozen other charter schools that obtained a nearly $1.5 million state grant to fund a pilot program aimed at identifying strategies to increase student engagement both during and after the pandemic.

The local school will receive about $90,000 of that money over the next two fiscal years. Not all schools in the group will try the same technique. Instead, they hope to test one of about five different ideas in each of the 13 different schools receiving the grant.

The schools were organized under the umbrella of the Colorado League of Charter Schools, of which Steamboat Montessori is a member.

The school is the third in the county to receive a Recovery Innovation and Student Equity — RISE — grant from Gov. Jared Polis.

Darcy Walters, director of teaching and learning at Steamboat Montessori, said because of the hybrid model they use at the school, the idea of increasing engagement was intriguing to them.

“We’ll be working together to come up with options for everyone to increase engagement, and those options have to be innovative,” Walters said.

The first meeting to brainstorm about those options will be held Tuesday, and the group of schools will work together to winnow those down until they have about five.

“We want to have a few options to choose from, and then all the schools will pick the option that works best for them,” said Jen Mac, a teacher at the school who helped secure the grant. “At the end of this process, we will report out on the efficacy of the strategy we chose, and if it’s successful, we will be able to share that with other schools across the state.”

Walters said Steamboat Montessori is excited about potentially partnering with the local community to bring in enrichment opportunities for students in a virtual platform. One example of this could be having someone from Steamboat Opera work with students virtually for a singing class.

“We want to make it something that is exciting for our school rather than buying a canned curriculum that is not really something that is part of this idea,” Mac said.

Opportunities to pursue new innovative approaches to teaching are hard to do, because the school does not have extra money to invest in those things. Grant funding allows the school to try new things and see how it can make teaching better.

Walters said the school often relies on volunteers to help them expand programming, and having some money to pay people increases potential opportunities.

“It is a big chunk of money for us, because charter schools always struggle for funding. So this dollar amount is really exciting for us, because it really increases our bottom line,” Walters said.

While the funding lasts for two years, they are hoping to start implementing some of these strategies by March. Part of the outcome of the grant will be a white paper summarizing the findings of the pilot program to share with schools across the state.

Mac said hopefully parents will see their children more excited to go to school both during the pandemic and also when things return to normal.

“The kids have to have buy-in on what they are doing, and engagement is the final result of that,” Mac said.

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