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Reading, Writing and Data; Summer School Aims To Help Struggling Colorado Youth

Jackie Fortier
Teacher Bailey Partridge helps students with their writing skills during summer school in the Windsor RE-4 district.

Wyatt has blond hair and a deep tan. He’s sitting at a desk in a noisy classroom, brow furrowed. He cocks his head to the side, his finger moving over a bumpy cover. He stares at the book's title, and then puts it down. Wyatt (KUNC is refraining from using his last name, since he is a student) is having some trouble reading.

He is one of 113 elementary students in the Windsor RE-4 School District who are spending two-and-half hours a day, three days a week brushing up on their reading skills over the summer.

Educators say third grade is the turning point for literacy. It’s when children move from learning to read to reading to learn. Too many students weren't meeting this critical milestone, prompting the Colorado legislature to pass the READ Act in 2012. The five-year plan allocates $15 million in funding to school districts statewide to help young students like Wyatt who are struggling with reading.

“We really had to think about how to use it, brainstormed with the elementary principals and figure out how to use the funds to really target kids that have a significant reading deficiency," said Amy Heinsma, Director of Instruction for the Windsor district which received $148,000 from the state in 2015.

Credit Jackie Fortier / KUNC

Educators choose which students to target using both data and professional expertise, she added. Each district can decide how to use the funding to best help their students. Heinsma said Windsor has spent their allotment on more staffing and expanded Kindergarten during the school year. They've also added summer school.

Bailey Partridge, one of the teachers at Windsor's summer school, says she also uses data to shift her instruction, depending on a student's needs.

“If someone is not making gains, then I need to switch it up to see if they start to make gains and start to close the gap of where they should be at,” said Partridge.

Teachers, as well as the district, can access data on every student to quickly see where they may be struggling and what has worked for them in the past.

Credit Jackie Fortier / KUNC

It’s this individualized attention that the district is hoping will help students like Wyatt. Windsor’s summer school boasts about three teachers for every 20 students.

“…[Summer school is] something that we had done in the past years ago when funding for schools was a little bit higher,” Heinsma said.

Credit Jackie Fortier / KUNC
Students practice writing words on white boards in a group exercise during summer school at Tozer.

The district will look at the data at the end of the summer to see how well the program worked. They aren’t the only ones.

In addition to assessments and individualized reading intervention strategies, the READ Act requires extensive data reporting to the Colorado Department of Education. That data will help lawmakers determine how effective the program is – and whether to continue its funding beyond 2017, when it will sunset.

If it's helping kids like Wyatt improve, Heinsma thinks Windsor will continue the summer school program, even if READ Act funding dries up. 

"If we have good data and this is successful for kids, we want to figure out a way to continue that regardless of the funding up and down....our goal really is to have kids catch up on reading," she said.

Credit Jackie Fortier / KUNC
Students write about their summer activites while practicing their literacy skills.



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