Steamboat schools get $1.2 million grant to improve early literacy across district

Four-year grant will fund literacy coaches at each elementary school

One out of every five American adults lacks the literacy skills to complete tasks that require comparing and contrasting information, paraphrasing or making low-level inferences, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Things are slightly better in Routt County, with just 10% of the population lacking basic literacy skills, according to data from the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. But that 10% still amounts to a rough estimate of 2,500 people in Routt County who lack these skills.

“(Literacy) is the cornerstone for all learning, regardless of the content or subject area,” said Jay Hamric, director of teaching and learning for the Steamboat Springs School District.

Hamric said Steamboat Springs is one of the strongest performing districts in the state when it comes to literacy, but there are always ways to get better. In April, the district received a $1.15 million Colorado Department of Education grant to focus on early literacy efforts across the district.

The Comprehensive Early Literacy Grant extends over the next four years, and when paired with additional money from the Steamboat Springs Education Fund, will pay for three full-time literacy coaches, one at each Strawberry Park Elementary, Soda Creek Elementary and Sleeping Giant School. It will also fund a literacy consultant that will create measurable goals for the district.

The grant funding will help the district introduce a new literacy-focused curriculum across the three elementary schools that aim to bring more consistent instruction for students from classroom to classroom.

“Although teachers are up-to-date in training and best practices in early literacy instruction in Steamboat schools, we saw the need to work towards having an approach to reading instruction that is consistent in every classroom,” said Soda Creek Assistant Principal Kalie McHaffie, in a statement.

The Hayden and South Routt School Districts received the same four-year literacy grant in 2016. Emily Beyer, the district’s grant writer, submits grant applications for each of Routt County’s districts, which collectively have received about $20 million in grant funding over the last three years.

Hamric said the district decided to apply for the grant last fall, in part, because of the benefits from a different literacy-focused grant the district received last year. This Early Literacy Professional Development Grant funded additional training for teachers last year. This year, the district was awarded nearly $100,000 more in grant funding to give 42 teachers additional literacy training.

“We saw the value of the training that we are getting with that one-year grant, and we saw where we can continue to build and be more sustainable with our systems and our training,” Hamric said.

The literacy coaches will primarily work with teachers from kindergarten to third-grade to create structures to reach students who may be behind grade level, while also challenging students who may be more advanced. Hamric said these coaches will also be working closely with emerging bilingual students to boost literacy in both English and Spanish.

“The more time and energy that we invest in the younger ages, the more success and growth students experience in upper elementary, middle and high school,” Hamric said

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