Lieutenant governor makes Craig visit to talk education, literacy |

Lieutenant governor makes Craig visit to talk education, literacy

Bridget Manley

Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, left, and Christine Benero, president and CEO of Mile High United Way in Denver, listen to an audience member speak during a public forum Monday at Craig City Hall. Craig was the second stop in Garcia's tour across the state to gather ideas for fostering literacy in children from birth to age 8.
Bridget Manley

Michele Conroy, a third-grade teacher at Sandrock Elementary School, speaks at a public forum with Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia on Monday afternoon at Craig City Hall. Conroy holds a bag of receipts documenting how much of her own money she's spent for classroom supplies. Since January, she said, she's spent about $500.Bridget Manley

Prospects can be dim for students who fall behind in reading at an early age, Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia told a group of about 30 Craig residents Monday.

"Kids who leave third grade and are not proficient readers never really catch up in the other academic subject areas and they're certainly not prepared for post-secondary opportunities when and if they do graduate," he said.

A public forum he conducted Monday at Craig City Hall was designed to take aim at that problem.

There, local officials, educators and community members participated in the hour-long conversation designed to gather feedback and prompt discussion about early childhood literacy.

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The forum was one of several scheduled in Garcia's tour of the state. He was accompanied by Christine Benero, the president and chief executive officer of Mile High United Way, which recently received a $3.6 million Social Innovation Fund grant earmarked to bolster literacy programs across the state.

About a quarter of Colorado's third-graders aren't reading at grade level, Benero said.

"That's not good enough," she said.

Literacy not only impacts the individual child, Garcia said, but it also can have an effect on the state and nation.

"We know in this state that if we want to be competitive with other states, much less have the United States be competitive with other countries, we need to do a better job of getting our young people through high school and into secondary opportunities," he said.

The scope of the conversation extended from education at the preschool and kindergarten levels to higher education.

The need for remedial education at Colorado Northwestern Community College is "huge," said Gene Bilodeau, vice president of CNCC's Craig campus, adding that students across the board need help in reading, writing and math.

Garcia said this trend could be linked to students' skills in third-grade, or that point in their education where they're at risk of falling behind for years to come.

But finding the funds and resources needed to provide high-quality education for young students isn't always easy, some audience members contended.

Offering the competitive salary to find and retain qualified staff is one problem at the early childhood level, directors of area preschools said.

A lack of education funding is another, said Michele Conroy, a third-grade teacher at Sandrock Elementary School.

She brought a small plastic bag of receipts she said documented how much of her own money she's spent on classroom supplies.

She's spent about $500 since January, she said, "and it's not even the end of the year."

But audience members also could point to programs and approaches that are working.

Bilodeau, a Craig Rotary Club member, said the organization goes into local third-grade classrooms several times a year to read to young children.

"It just amazing, the buy-in kids get … and how much they look forward to that," he said.

Hard data on the district's all-day kindergarten program can be a few years out yet, but "I do know the teachers are saying it makes a difference," said Jo Ann Baxter, Moffat County School Board president.

Garcia said the information gathered during the tour will be used to determine the next steps in improving early childhood literacy, whether it be through a policy change or another avenue.

"We do know, at least I believe, that there is not one answer to making sure all kids are reading at grade level by the time they reach third grade," he said. "We know there's a lot of things that need to happen, and every kid is different, and every community is different."

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