Center kindergartner Rafael Najera shows Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia how his Ipad works last Thursday.
Courier photo by Lauren Krizansky
Courier staff writer
CENTER — Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia came in the name of literacy, and took home a story or two for his friends in Denver.
Last Thursday, Garcia visited the Valley as a part of his Colorado Literacy Week statewide tour. After reading the tour’s featured children’s book, Duck on a Bike, to United Methodist Church Wee Care Preschoolers, he promoted the One Book 4 Colorado event at McDonald’s before passing the afternoon with the Center Consolidated School District’s students, staff and community.
He could hardly make it to seat in the Fyock Library because the district’s preschool students were so eager for the arrival of their “Friend Joe.” They performed a song and dance for Garcia, and began to share their stories without a prompt. Once settled, he read Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, a children’s story about the alphabet, and small hands tore at the pages while small voices chimed in when the rhyme and rhythm was familiar.
“Keep reading all of your life and you’ll be successful,” Garcia told the students before they all leapt up for another twirl on the dance floor. “You’ll be happy. You’ll get to go places and meet people. You can use your imagination.”
Last year, the state launched the Colorado Reads: The Early Literacy Initiative. The movement brought public attention to the importance of early literacy and the impact early childhood education has on future academic achievement. In the last 12 months, the movement has passed the READ Act, created the Office of Early Childhood Learning and received a nearly $30 million federal Race to the Top, Early Learning Challenge Fund grant, which will only raise the quality of early learning across the state.
With Transitional Colorado Assessment Program (TCAP) third rate reading scores coming in flat last week at 73-percent and even declining further in the Valley, Garcia’s message that improvement is the only way of tomorrow was encouraging, and found already to be in the works when he toured the halls of the new Center school.
We all want to see TCAP scores go up,” Garcia said after visiting with teachers and students. “We can’t go on doing things the same old way. We have to start backing up and working with those kids at an earlier age. We have seen schools like this one where we have seen growth and achievement.”
The Center Consolidated School District has made considerable gains when it comes to third grade literacy. In 2010, only 28-percent of its third graders were ranked proficient or advanced. This year, the 90-percent below poverty level half English Language Learner population, over 60-percent are proficient or advanced, and, in 2011, 75-percent met the classification standards, which exceeded the state average.
“We are seeing some schools figure it out,” Garcia said about literacy visions becoming realities. “Now we have to transfer those best practices and get all schools to do it. We have to be looking at things like how we educate our teachers and if our teacher preparation programs are adequate.”
As the world turns in technology, computers and their counterparts are being recognized as a best practice. Garcia said new schools like Center’s are pivotal to enhancing the student’s learning experience, and learned first hand that it works perfectly well in rural Colorado from kindergartner Rafeal Najera.
“He was quick to show me a page on his Ipad that had his growth on a chart,” Garcia recalled about his math lesson earlier in the afternoon. “It was showing how he was doing and he was proud to show that. He was tracking his own growth.”
Pride didn’t stop with Najera. Garcia learned how the Save the Children early childhood education program is successfully uniting families with knowledge, and also the struggle and founder that comes with the attempt to simply educate in an impoverished region.
“What are families are worried about are food, shelter, housing and clothing; basic needs of survival,” explained Saguache County Save the Children coordinator Natasha Mills-McKim during the community session at the end of the Lt. Gov.’s visit. “I think the state needs to focus on creative efforts to help the rural populations who do not know how they are going to get by day to day into valuing literacy, reading and education. What you are looking at here is not reading because we would love to be concerned about reading. It is about how you get them there.”
She continued, “I don’t know how to reach my kids about education when they don’t know when they are going to eat; when they come to school purely to get food. This is not an isolated issue in the San Luis Valley. This is the San Luis Valley. Those needs need to be met so we can make literacy important.”
Although Garcia couldn’t offer an immediate solution to the challenges many face in the Valley, he sternly empathized.
“We can’t let any parent off of the hook,” he said after comparing urban safety issues to rural survival. “It might sound a little harsh, but it is their responsibility to raise that child...We understand their are concerns about food and housing.”
He added, “We know it is possible to translate the message. It doesn’t matter where you are growing up, you have to keep your eye on the ball.”
Or, in this case, “the book” would be more appropriate.