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The Spark - August 2021
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Summer is winding down and another busy, and probably at least a bit unusual, school year is upon us. I sincerely hope you were able to disconnect this summer, spend time with your loved ones and enjoy doing whatever it is that makes you happy. During these stressful times, it’s more important than ever to take care of ourselves, so I hope that you have been able to relax and refuel.
I am incredibly hopeful that this coming year will see a return to a more normal school routine for educators, students and parents. We learned a lot over the course of the last year and a half, and one of those things is that being together in-person is absolutely critical. Our students learn best when they can be supported in person by our excellent educators and staff, and the personal connections they make with each other and with caring adults is critical to their development.
Unfortunately, things seem to be changing again with the concerns about the Delta variant, but at least we have more tools this year to combat this virus.
Vaccines -- I’m so grateful that we have safe and effective vaccines and that they are widely available to our population of children who are 12 years old and up. Vaccines are our best defense against this virus. You can use this poster to encourage students to and their families to get the vaccine.
Masks -- We know that masks are effective in reducing the spread of the virus. At this time, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment recommends local public health agencies and school districts consider mask requirements for all unvaccinated individuals or all individuals in schools, particularly in higher-risk environments.
COVID-19 testing -- The state has federal funding to provide weekly COVID-19 testing within schools. More information is coming soon about this program that will help schools nip outbreaks in the bud and keep students in the classroom and doing the extracurricular activities that are so important to healthy youth development.
The health guidance issued by CDPHE in July follows the CDC’s guidelines for the most part, and this toolkit provides resources to help implement the guidance. Both the guidance and the toolkit give local public health agencies the authority to make decisions about things like quarantines, masking and other tools to prevent and manage outbreaks. District leaders and parents told us over and over last spring and through the summer that they wanted their local communities to make decisions on virus-prevention and containment strategies that are right for their local setting. And our own State Board of Education sent this letter to the governor asking him to return control to local public health authorities and local district leaders. CDPHE’s guidance gives broad best practices for the year, and for the most part your districts will be coordinating with your local health officials to implement the strategies that make sense for your communities.
I had hoped that this school year would be relatively free of many of the strategies needed to contain the COVID-19 virus, but with the Delta variant spreading so quickly, it looks like we will need to continue to be vigilant in our efforts to stop the spread of the virus.
I’m optimistic that by using effective strategies to contain the virus, in-person learning and other school activities can take place this year. We know that many students missed learning opportunities -- and they just missed being together and being with their teachers. It’s critically important to keep students in the classroom where their learning can best be supported and where they can benefit from the connections and friendships of their school community.
We are working hard to put together our plan for state-level activities to support school and district efforts to accelerate learning for students who experienced disruptions last year. We spent much of the last several weeks conducting listening sessions to gather input from teachers, parents and students as well as administrators at the school and district level. In next month’s SPARK article, I’ll tell you about our plan which will be based largely on the feedback we received.
I hope that the beginning of this school year is filled with the excitement and joy of seeing your students in the classroom and launching a year of learning and exploration together!
Diane Bainer, a third-grade teacher at Highland Elementary School in Weld RE-9 School District, knew the moment a student couldn’t understand the word they were trying to read.
The student would look up from his book, search for the room for his teacher and raise his hand for help.
“My kids were lacking skills in sounding out words or syllables,” she said. “They knew the letters but didn’t know the word patterns, like the words ‘A’ and ‘I’ together make a long ‘ayy’ sound. Lacking those skills hugely impacted their reading. They wouldn’t know how to say the word. They didn’t know what to do. They would look for a teacher to read the word for them.”
That has changed in Ms. Bainer’s classroom and classrooms around the Weld RE-9 School District. Teachers are taking required courses in evidence-based reading to learn about the science of reading and how to teach it. The change has been transformative, she said.
“It was an eye-opener for the majority of us, just how the brain looks at reading,” she said. “Now they can visualize how to decode and sound them out. My kids had a 65% growth in reading. It has particularly helped kids who were some of my lowest readers. I had two students on an IEP for reading at the beginning of the year. By the end of the year they didn’t have to be on the IEP anymore.”
As part the READ Act, which is Colorado’s effort to improve early literacy, lawmakers in 2019 created new requirements for Colorado’s K-3 teachers, who will have to complete evidence-based training in teaching reading by Aug. 1, 2022. Lawmakers believe that by increasing teacher knowledge of evidence-based practices for teaching reading, students in kindergarten through third grade will improve their literacy skills. Read more about the training
Bainer, who has taught for 13 years, went to the University of Northern Colorado and Colorado Christian University.
“(My) college didn’t teach you how to teach reading,” she said. “It was just about fluency and how to test for comprehension. College didn’t prepare us to teach phonics and how to identify where my kids are struggling. Now I can give them this test and find out where they are lacking and how to help them bridge the gaps.”
Teachers at her school have been taking the PD together since the beginning of the 2020-21 school year.
“I’m so glad we did it,” she said. “It’s really worth it to see how a good curriculum or skills can benefit the child through school. It is definitely worth seeing how the brain works and how it needs all parts to make everything work.”
The readwithme.today website provides busy parents with quick and easy tips in English and Spanish to support their children’s reading development. Resources include an “At Home Parents Reading Kit,” a printable document that helps families explore ways to make reading fun for their children. Be sure to share this fun and engaging resource with your parents of young children.
For more information visit, https://readwithme.today/.
To families, teachers are among the most trusted sources for important information. Here’s what you need to know about vaccines for children aged 12 and up.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has provided information about the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine that is recommended for children 12 to 17:
- The Pfizer vaccine is free, and no ID, insurance, or appointment is needed.
- Everyone age 12 and up is eligible to receive the vaccine.
- Clinical trials showed that the Pfizer vaccine is safe and extremely effective in this age group.
- Among 2,260 trial volunteers aged 12-15 years old, the Pfizer vaccine showed 100% efficacy.
- Side effects for adolescents are similar to side effects for adults. They may include fever, chills, headache, soreness, and tiredness.
- While children are less likely to get seriously sick or die from COVID-19 than adults, they are still at risk, and can spread the virus to others. Vaccinating tweens and teens — especially before going back to school — will help keep kids safe through the end of the pandemic.
- The state of Colorado does not require minors to be accompanied to their vaccine appointments as long as parental consent is collected and shared prior to the appointment. This can be done through Colorado’s COVID-19 Vaccine Screening and Administration Form or through the vaccine provider’s online scheduling system. The provider may also obtain consent by phone and document it in the patient’s record.
- Some vaccine providers may require children aged 12 to 17 to have a parent or guardian with them at their appointment.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has studied reports of inflammation of the heart muscle and surrounding tissue, called myocarditis and pericarditis, after COVID-19 vaccination among younger people. They found this adverse event is extremely rare and very few people will experience it after vaccination. In the very rare case it does occur, most cases are mild, and people often recover on their own or with minimal treatment.
- Myocarditis and pericarditis are much more common if you get COVID-19, and the risks to the heart from COVID-19 infection can be more severe. Therefore, CDC continues to recommend COVID-19 vaccination for everyone 12 years of age and older, given the greater risk of COVID-19 illness and possibly severe complications.
How should the state spend $132 million in federal funding to best serve Colorado’s students, teachers and schools?
That was the question posed in a series of virtual public meetings and a survey in July as CDE engaged stakeholders to determine what to do with the remaining funds from three federal stimulus bills for education. By the end of the summer CDE must submit its plans to the U.S. Department of Education on how it intends to use the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds.
To help prepare the proposal and maximize the impact of these one-time funds, CDE sought input from students, parents, teachers and school and system leaders along with community organizations.
The State Board of Education will take that feedback and devote half of its Thursday meeting this month to a work session to discuss the ESSER funds. The board plans to meet on Tuesday, Aug. 24, to vote on how to spend the money. Visit the CARES Act webpage for more information on the federal COVID-19 education funds.
To watch the State Board of Education meetings, find the link on the board’s webpage.
CDE is developing an outreach program with funding from the Colorado Health Foundation through the Blueprint to End Hunger Grant to help promote school and summer meals and increase access to and participation in child nutrition programs.
Research has shown that students aren’t able to be successful academically when they’re hungry. Nutritious school and summer meals remove distractions and help grow strong bodies and minds, which are crucial during learning years. By embracing meals as a school community, administrators and teachers can create an inclusive environment where all students benefit from proper nutrition.
As trusted partners, teachers play an integral role in spreading awareness, particularly to students in need. Children look up to teachers, and school lunches can often be the healthiest meal of the day for students, so teachers can play a critical role in modeling healthy eating habits around school lunches.
Be on the lookout for resources to share with students and parents throughout the year. Outreach materials will be available in the coming weeks. More information about school nutrition programs is available on the School Nutrition webpage.
There’s still time to apply for a seat on the Colorado Education Commissioner’s Teacher Cabinet! The cabinet seeks new members to join this esteemed advisory group to share their hands-on classroom experience while helping shape statewide education policy.
To be considered for a cabinet position, candidates must complete an online application by 11:59 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 13. Those interested must also email their résumé, narrative, signatures and letters of recommendation to Stacey Macklin, executive assistant to the commissioner, at email@example.com by the deadline.
Why apply to join the cabinet? This group of awesome teachers helps brainstorm solutions for some of the state’s most pressing educational challenges, such as addressing teacher shortages and retention, increasing achievement among all students and improving school safety. It’s an opportunity to network with fellow teachers from around the state, representing small, medium, large, rural, suburban and urban school systems.
Colorado Education Commissioner Katy Anthes created the Teacher Cabinet in 2017 to add educator voices to groups that already advise her on key education topics, including the Commissioner’s Superintendent Advisory Board and the Rural Education Council. Her goal is to connect directly with teachers who can offer their local perspective and ensure policy makers and legislators also hear the voice of practicing teachers.
- CU Denver will spearhead group to reform early childhood teacher preparation, June 30, 2021. News Nation USA.
- He left tech to become a Colorado high school teacher. His key to classroom success: ‘love the kids as much as the content.’ June 29, 2021, Chalkbeat Colorado.
- Free meals, flexible schedules: Colorado kids on where federal stimulus money for schools should go, July 9, 2021, Colorado Sun.
Back to School Toolkit
A back-to-school toolkit with resources and strategies aligned to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's Guide for Operationalizing the CDC's School Guidance is available to help schools provide safe learning environments this school year.
The toolkit created was created in collaboration between CDPHE, CDE and the Colorado Association of Local Public Health Officials.
The toolkit features multilayered prevention and mitigation strategies and resources designed to help schools maintain and maximize in-person learning opportunities. The toolkit includes guidance on vaccines, testing, masking, distancing, cleaning and responding to outbreaks. Many other subjects are also covered in the toolkit that will be updated as new information becomes available.