Education groups and community partners across Colorado have formed a coalition to support initiatives for the engagement of families and students over the summer.
After a year of disrupted learning brought on by COVID-19, educators, foundations and nonprofit partners across the state joined in signing a letter to Gov. Jared Polis, legislators and leaders of the state education and human services departments urging them to fund programs for a “for a relationship-rich, learning-infused summer,” according to a news release.
“We are at a significant pivot point between the disruption of the past 12 months and long-term recovery for the future. We must act collectively to create a Recovery Summer for Colorado kids and families so the necessary healing and growth can begin,” Rebecca Holmes, CEO of Colorado Education Initiative, stated in the release.
Locally, early childhood education providers are aware of the need for additional support for students during the summer months.
Danielle Butler, executive director at the Early Childhood Council of Boulder County, said planning is in its early days but the letter lays out a vision for what communities should invest in during the upcoming months.
“The education community, from early childhood through high school, are all concerned about the impact COVID has had on our children,” she said. “Not just from the educational point of view but also the socio-emotional point of view, as well as the parent experience. Parents are really struggling.”
The pandemic has greatly affected the availability of summer programming for young children, according to Butler. In other years, summer educational care programs offered through local school districts are set up by February with 50% or more of enrollment already full. This year plans for the summer are still pending, she said.
In Colorado, close to 10% of early childhood education providers have closed since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and early childhood enrollment has decreased by more than 30%, according to a study by Early Milestones Colorado.
Teacher resignations and leaves of absence also are major concerns for many school districts throughout the state, according to a report by the Colorado Department of Education, which found few districts have a sufficient number of substitute teachers and many said teacher mental health has become a top priority.
“There’s going to need to be good convening of partners who would coordinate to develop services for the summer,” Butler said. “This letter is new and was just brought to my attention, but I have no doubt the council will be signing on to support this initiative, this is everything we are already working on.”
In Longmont, St. Vrain Valley School District has been working to provide robust summer programming for students, according to Kerri McDermid, the district’s chief communications and global impact officer.
Last month, SVVSD was awarded a $2.79 million grant from Colorado's Response, Innovation and Student Equity, or RISE, Fund for its summer literacy program, Project Launch, and expand it to five partner districts. In addition to paying for St. Vrain’s Project Launch summer program at six of 14 district sites, the RISE grant will pay for the development of Reading ReLaunch Across Colorado, a full-time summer literacy program for students in kindergarten through fifth grades at schools with lower performance in the Cheraw, Estes Park, Las Animas, Montezuma-Cortez and Sheridan school districts.
SVVSD has not signed on to the Summer Recovery coalition but will continue to push programming to support students during the summer, McDermid said.
“In addition to the robust summer programming that we have in place, we have a strong partnership with the Colorado Education Initiative and are already partnering with them to expand summer programming for districts across the state through the RISE grant,” she said.
Jennifer Stedron, executive director of Early Milestones Colorado, said the coalition and the letter come after months of research that point to an urgent need for summer programming.
“Last spring when the pandemic hit we didn't have time to plan for the summer nor was there the capability considering lockdown orders and the overall situation. Now with some time and understanding of what families and students are going through, we feel like right now we need to start planning to support families and students and be ready for potential federal funds or other public funds available for these purposes,” she said.
The letter also highlights the overarching priorities that look at the family as a whole and acknowledge disparities for certain population groups.
“We acknowledge COVID is an unbelievably difficult time for everyone and families have done an amazing (job at) being creative in helping support their students. We also know these unusual education circumstances have disparately impacted some students,” Stedron said, adding young learners, high school students, English language learners and students with special needs have had an especially challenging time.
The coalition seeks to find models that prioritize equity and the wellbeing of children and families as well as creative solutions to provide experiential learning to students.
“We are looking at creative partners, at the creative use of spaces like libraries, parks and recreation (facilities), after-school programming for a taste of what could be in education,” Sterdon said. “To find models that suit families and students in the best way, to help them learn and be supported in the best way possible.”