Colorado Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia learns from Summit County educators
Colorado Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia visited Summit County on Wednesday, Sept. 30, to promote reading and hear from local educators, community leaders and parents.
The visit was part of a weeklong tour across the state, called Colorado Literacy Week.
Garcia was elected Lieutenant Governor in 2010 and then confirmed by the state legislature as executive director of higher education due to his experience as president of Colorado State University in Pueblo and Pikes Peak Community College. He advises Gov. John Hickenlooper on education policy and legislation and chairs the Education Leadership Council.
Garcia’s stopped in Summit at Lake Dillon Preschool in Dillon and the Family and Intercultural Resource Center (FIRC) in Silverthorne. At both locations, he read and gave out copies of a book called “How Do Dinosaurs Get Well Soon?” His reading was interpreted for Spanish speakers and involved Garcia’s take on sneezing and wailing like a dinosaur.
Lake Dillon Preschool and FIRC employees spoke about their programs and the impacts they’ve seen from community and state initiatives.
Summit Middle School principal Joel Rivera talked about partnering with the FIRC to create Conexiones, a program in which he visits the homes of incoming sixth-graders with the help of interpreters and then the school regularly checks in with parents throughout the year.
Before that, in the 2008-09 year, the school experienced 1,400 discipline incidents of students being sent out of class to the office, and the graduation rate for Latinos was 47 percent.
“It wasn’t that those kids were bad. It wasn’t that the parents didn’t care about education. It was that, as a school district, we weren’t doing our job,” he said.
The program has helped boost test scores and family involvement, and, in the 2014-15 year, the middle school handled about 150 of those discipline incidents and the Latino graduation rate was 84 percent.
FIRC executive director Tamara Drangstveit talked about the model’s low cost. Based on the success of Conexiones, the program will be expanded this year to families of students at some other local schools, she said.
A handful of Spanish-speaking parents praised the program as well as support provided to their children through the school district’s pre-collegiate program for students who would be the first generation in their families to attend college.
“We all know parents care about their kids’ success,” Garcia said, and these efforts like Conexiones engage parents who aren’t sure how to help their students because of language, education-level or other barriers or who don’t feel welcome in school settings.
He praised the community for coming together and using its resources to focus on middle school, an age when parent involvement often falls and kids can find themselves on paths to dropping out of school.
“Summit County is an example of what can work throughout the state if people focus on those important connections,” he said.
Davidson said the community is trying to engage students from preschool through college and listed a few other strategies besides Conexiones and the pre-collegiate program including the county’s Right Start Project, the town of Breckenridge’s child care program and new Colorado Mountain College efforts to support local high schoolers.
“You put these programs together, and all of a sudden you have amazing results,” he said. “It’s not a handout; it’s a hand up.”
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