Cradle to Career Initiative helping quell ‘quiet crisis’ | AspenTimes.com

Cradle to Career Initiative helping quell ‘quiet crisis’

Scott Condon | The Aspen Times

Preschoolers take a break from studies on Gus the Bus in the Preschool on Wheels program.

In 2011, when the Aspen Community Foundation started digging into education issues affecting an estimated 20,000 children from Aspen to Parachute, officials became convinced a "quiet crisis" was unfolding.

Substantial gaps had appeared in the education achievement of low-income children and their more affluent peers. In addition, there was a rapidly growing number of English language learners that strained school district resources. Educators realized that a growing number of high school students either dropped out or were ill-prepared for college or career.

The foundation convened 100 community leaders from school, civic groups and nonprofits in late 2012 to study how to improve education, particularly for students at risk of performing poorly and dropping out of school. It came up with an action plan about 18 months later.

The Cradle to Career Initiative was launched in May 2014 to prepare children for success from preschool to college. The Aspen Community Foundation released a comprehensive report this month measuring results from the first two years.

John Bennett, director of the Cradle to Career Initiative, said two results jumped out of the report for him. First, a variety of programs designed to get children prepared for kindergarten appear to be working.

Cradle to Career's first of four goals is to help prepare all children for kindergarten.

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"The younger the child is, the greater the leverage," Bennett said. In other words, programs can be particularly effective with younger students.

One of the programs is Jumpstart, which provides five full days per week for five weeks of summer programs for children in Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs who are about to enter kindergarten with little or no early education.

"Jumpstart reduces the kindergarten gap among low-income, primarily Latino children," the Cradle to Career Initiative's 2016 report says.

Another program, Preschool on Wheels, enlisted Gus the Bus and the Sunshine Bus to fire up preschoolers about education. The program provides high-quality, licensed preschool to low-income children from Rifle, Silt and New Castle.

The report says that students enlisted in Preschool on Wheels demonstrated significant growth during kindergarten in using language to express thoughts and needs, demonstrating knowledge of the alphabet and demonstrating emergent writing skills.

The number of preschool participation in the region increased from 76 percent in 2014 to 89 percent in 2015, according to the report.

"In 2011, most of our region's children were not attending preschool," the report said.

Bennett said another example of success is dedicating college-career counselors to high schools. Aspen Community Foundation funded the addition of a counselor at Basalt High School in 2012-13 under a five-year agreement with the school district. The foundation covers a decreasing amount of the cost each year while the school district picks up more of the expense.

Basalt's graduation rate has improved from 77 percent in 2013 to 82 percent the following year and 87 percent in 2015. College enrollment also increased.

The community foundation is extending the partnership for a college-career counselor to the other high schools in the region. Aspen already had such a position.

The report also has some less promising results. The Aspen Community Foundation and school districts in the region hired national pollster Gallup to help with surveys of children in grades five through 12.

It showed 45 percent of students overall were "strongly hopeful" while 36 percent were "stuck" and 19 percent were "discouraged."

It also found a "hope gap." The student survey found 51 percent of Anglos reported being "strongly hopeful" compared with 38 percent of Latinos.

Bennett said Cradle to Career Initiative wants to do what it can to raise the hopes of all students.

scondon@aspentimes.com

HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION RATES

Pitkin County 99%

Garfield County 81%

Region overall 83%

Regional Latino males 63%

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