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ESSER III grant helps support St. Vrain's Project Launch summer program

ESSER III grant helps support St. Vrain's Project Launch summer program

Students work at Project Launch, a program that will benefit from the ESSER Expanded Learning Opportunities grant.

Students work at Project Launch, a program that will benefit from the ESSER Expanded Learning Opportunities grant.

Project Launch, a full-day summer program that is a collaboration between St. Vrain Valley Schools and four rural districts, is using a $2 million Expanded Learning Opportunities grant from ESSER III to expand the program over the next two years.

 “We were grant awardees for two years under the governor's RISE grant. We really saw some tremendous, tremendous gains,” said Diane Lauer, assistant superintendent of priority programs and academic support at St. Vrain Valley School District. “That helped us to really know that our design was effective. And so being able to access the ELO funds is very exciting because it gives us two more years to continue to advance learning for our students.” 

The program was originally designed in the St. Vrain Valley district and in 2022 expanded to four rural partner districts—Montezuma-Cortez, Cheraw, Las Animas and Estes Park. Most participating schools have Title I status.

A total of 780 rising kindergarten through fifth-grade students across the districts will be identified for the program and recruited for free participation in the four-week full-day program this coming summer. Each day students will have 45 minutes of structured literacy intervention, 120 minutes of language arts, 120 minutes of STEM activities and 60 minutes of music or physical education. The schools also will host several events over the term to help families create a literacy-rich home environment.

“We consulted the research, and really looked at some other programs that were showing an impact,” Lauer said. “Previously, we had a half-day program. And what we found in the research is that a full day program is really going to maximize the student learning.” 

Collaboration with other school districts has boosted the program’s success. For example, St. Vrain shared with its partner schools that it was using Heggerty phonemic awareness materials in addition to other READ Act-aligned materials. When teachers at other schools tried the same approach, they were amazed by how well the students were learning.

Testing confirmed that the approach was effective. In 2021, Las Animas students increased their ability to break words into their individual sounds by 14% by the end of the four weeks. In the second year, the increase was 57%.

Project Launch program also employs high-school students interested in a teaching career. This coming summer, each program site will have two to five teacher apprentices with a focus on first-generation, bilingual, and/or bicultural students.

“We're all looking for ways to inspire that next generation of educators,” Lauer said. “And what better way to do that, than to find some high school students who could have a workplace learning teaching experience, so we hired them as paraprofessionals.”

 Giselle Caraveo Dominguez, a senior at Skyline High School in Longmont, worked as a paraprofessional last year and plans to repeat the experience this summer. Through St. Vrain Valley’s Pathways to Teaching program, also known as P-TEACH, she gained field experience during the school year, shadowing teachers for about an hour at a time. 

Working for Project Launch gave her a full-day classroom experience for the first time. She gained confidence in her teaching ability and confirmed that teaching is the right career path for her. Building relationships with teacher mentors has also helped her navigate the college enrollment process. 

 “I'm a first-generation student. I'm the first one in my family to go to college,” Caraveo Dominguez said. “So P-TEACH really helped me go through those steps.”

 Lauer suspects the summer program helped one of the partner schools, Rocky Mountain Elementary in Longmont, become the only school to win both the Governor’s All School Bright Spot Award and the Governor’s Math Bright Spot Award this school year. The awards are given to schools that showed exceptional academic improvement during the pandemic.

 Although Project Launch is a summer program, the idea is for teachers to continue to use the same evidence-based strategies throughout the school year.

“We know that this approach works,” Lauer said, adding that over the next two years, “We're going to show that impact, and we're absolutely open and interested in collaborating with anyone else who's interested in this model.”