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March 1, 2012

Mile High United Way funds literacy programs to serve 24,000 more kids under age 8

Eleven programs across Colorado are getting a boost of about $2.5 million in grant funds to help get more kids reading by third grade.

Of the winners announced Wednesday, one in Denver will be using its chunk of the funds to get more teachers and parents reading to their infants and toddlers in an engaging way.

“We are going to be working primarily with the youngest infants and toddlers, their parents, teachers and some volunteers in our own school to get people to pay attention to how much language they’re really using with the kids,” said Charlotte Brantley, president of Clayton Early Learning.

The funds came from a two-year $3.6 million Social Innovation Fund grant awarded in August to Mile High United Way.

United Way president Christine Benero said 38 organizations applied for grants from the pool. The selection process included site visits and a look at evidence-based data using a higher than normal bar, set by the Social Innovation Fund.

The 11 selected organizations are expected to serve 24,000 additional children across all 64 Colorado counties in the first year. All of them will target children younger than 8, as much of the effort centers on data that show if students are not proficient in reading by third grade, their chances of dropping out of school increase dramatically.

Clayton Early Learning already uses the technique “dialogic reading” in its early learning center and teaches parents of about 75 children how to use the technique during informal groups held across the city. More than 600 additional students will benefit from the technique in the first year.

“It’s stopping periodically and asking children questions,” Brantley said. “For example, in a story for toddlers about a bunny stopping to find carrots, the adult would point to the bunny and ask, where do you think the bunny is going next? It gets the children really engaged, immerses them in the vocabulary of the book and increases their comprehension.”

Clayton will also buy 16 Language Environment Analysis — or LENA — devices that children will wear to record how much language they are exposed to.

Another winner, The Colorado Parent and Child Foundation — which is using the money for its Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters, or HIPPY, and Parents as Teachers, or PAT — is the only organization that had a “strong” level of evidence showing success.

The foundation will distribute the funds to eight partner centers that use the home-visitation programs HIPPY and PAT.

The United Way’s efforts have become part of Gov. John Hickenlooper and Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia’s Literacy Plan, also announced Wednesday. The plan sets out five action items for the state, including identifying and eliminating health and developmental barriers, involving parents, increasing access to preschool, and improving early education quality and teacher preparation.

The plan also sets out three legislative priorities and six community-based initiatives.

Money left over after grants are awarded will go to recruit and train volunteers and mentors for literacy programs across the state, and to provide technical assistance to the grant winners.

The other winning organizations are: Centennial Board of Cooperative Educational Services, Colorado Humanities, Colorado Statewide Parent Coalition, Denver Public Schools Foundation, Reading Partners, Save the Children Federation, Summit54, the Bridge Project and the Jefferson Foundation.

–Yesenia Robles, Denver Post/ Source

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