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The Spark - December 2023

The Spark. A newsletter filled with information and inspiration for Colorado teachers.

A message to you from Education Commissioner Susana Córdova

Portrait of Commissioner Susana Córdova

 

Much has been studied and said about the need to make high school more relevant for students by “blurring the lines” between the classroom, careers and college across our nation, but here in Colorado we took a major step forward last week with the release of the report from the Secondary, Postsecondary and Work-based Learning Integration Task Force. 

Task Force members clearly stated that in Colorado we have a disconnect between secondary, higher education and businesses regarding the preparation of learners to become successful workers. The task force recommendations aim to lower the boundaries between key transition points along the learner-to-worker journey to create “a singular, more flexible system.” 

At the core of its discussions and recommendations, the task force recommends that by the time learners turn 21 in Colorado, they should have no-cost access to: 

Many of you are already doing this work, and doing it very well. For example, the District Career Tech Center in Thompson has partnerships with the community college in the area to offer students opportunities in Nursing/Health Care, Cybersecurity/IT System Administration, Construction and Manufacturing. And in Durango the new Impact Career Innovation Center will allow students to pursue 14 different technical education pathways. In addition, the building will also be home to concurrent enrollment courses with Fort Lewis College and Pueblo Community College.

These districts and others including St. Vrain Valley, Cañon City Schools and Poudre Valley School District have taken innovative approaches and made significant investments to ensure their high schools are empowering students for success in careers and college. The next step in bringing this work to scale statewide is for the General Assembly to consider the report and craft legislation putting the recommendations into motion.

I’m incredibly optimistic that the recommendations outlined by the task force create a roadmap that will lead us to more meaningful high school experiences for our students that open their eyes to potential careers and help prepare them through college courses and work-based learning opportunities. 

Keep reading the SPARK for updates on this important work. 

And in the meantime, as a former teacher, I want to acknowledge and thank you for all you are doing in your schools during this busy month. December is among the most demanding times, with holiday performances, finals, grades, and juggling work and home in preparation for festivities in both places. 

As the days grow shorter and the weather colder, it's natural to feel the weight of the academic year and the stresses that come with it. But it's also a time for reflection, celebration and renewal. 

I want to express my gratitude for your tireless efforts. You are the heart and soul of our education system, and you make a profound difference in the lives of our students. Your contribution to their success is understood and valued. 

As you continue to give your all to your students, remember to take care of yourself! Your well-being is crucial, and taking time for yourselves is not selfish; it's necessary. Please make sure to rest, recharge and prioritize your physical and mental health during the winter break. If you need help or someone to talk to, please consider the educator well-being support line offered for free through the University of Colorado’s School of Psychiatry. 

With gratitude for all you do,

Susana 

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Teachers can receive loan forgiveness through federal programs

Teacher Image for Spark

Colorado teachers looking to get some relief on their student loans have a few options available, one is the Federal Loan Forgiveness program and the other is the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program

Federal Loan Forgiveness includes two options:

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program is for anyone who is employed by a government or not-for-profit organization. The program can forgive the remaining balance on Direct Loans for people who have the equivalent of 120 qualifying monthly payments under an accepted repayment plan and who work full-time for an eligible employer.

 

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Computer Science Standards up for review

Spark Photo for Public Feedback

 

The Committee for the Colorado Academic Standards for Computer Science Review and Revisions seeks feedback from Colorado computer science teachers. This feedback is being sought from those who use the current CAS for Computer Science. Those interested can access the proposed revisions on the Standards Review Committee – Computer Science webpage before completing the Google Form here.  Contact information will be collected via the form to invite computer science educators to a feedback session in January 2024, after the public comment window closes. 

To view information about the public comment period for the proposed revisions to the CAS for Computer Science, visit the Standards Review Committee - Computer Science webpage.

 

 

 

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Polis funds second round of math acceleration program

 

Photo of children for Spark story on S-EBT

 

The Colorado General Assembly in November approved legislation creating a permanent Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer program that is expected to help more than 300,000 low-income students receive an estimated $35 million to help their families purchase groceries while school is out for the summer. 

Senate Bill 23B-02 passed both chambers and was signed into law by Gov. Jared Polis in a special session, creating the state's Summer EBT program similar to the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer program that provided assistance to income families with school-age children during the pandemic. 

Eligible students – such as those who are eligible for free and reduced lunch – will receive $40 a month with a maximum of $120 for the summer via Electronic Benefit cards. The cards are similar to pre-loaded debit cards and will be available to purchase groceries, including fruit, vegetables and other essential food items.

Summer EBT is a U.S. Department of Agriculture program, akin to other federal benefits programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The Colorado Department of Human Services will operate Colorado's program. To learn more, please visit the USDA’s webpage on the Summer EBT program.

 

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DonorsChoose initiatives provided needed supplies to Colorado teachers

Donors Choose logo for Spark article

Clifton Bluhm, a science teacher at Arvada West High, replaced his 40-year-old Van De Graaff Generator, enabling students to deep-learn the concepts of electricity.

A Denver K-3 teacher received hands-on materials so his students could conduct magnetic field experiments.

Thornton high-schoolers now have phospholipid and membrane transport kits so they can study how cells organize.

These are just three of the thousands of projects funded through this fall’s DonorsChoose campaign that provided nearly $20 million in ESSER and GEER funding to Colorado teachers for their classroom projects. 

Specifically, CDE in August gave $11 million from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund for nearly 14,000 classroom projects in 15,000 schools. The next month, Gov. Jared Polis provided $6.3 million in Governor Emergency Education Relief funding and CDE added $400,000 in ESSER funding for more than 7,000 projects in 1,300 schools. Each approved teacher request was eligible for up to $1,000 in total project funding.

Here is a breakdown of the two campaigns. 

Snapshot from Campaign 1: 

On Aug. 24, CDE announced the first initiative to provide public school teachers with $11 million in COVID relief funding for classroom projects. Teachers could apply for up to $1,000 in funding - which included some shipping and overhead costs. By Sept. 1, all of the $11 million was allocated. 

The first campaign funded 13,979 projects in 1,576 schools. Of those schools, two-fifths had 50% or more students from low-income households. The top subjects were literacy and language, life skills and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). 

Snapshot from Campaign No. 2:

On Sept. 21, Gov. Jared Polis announced an allocation of $6.3 million from the Governor Emergency Education Relief fund for public school teachers for classroom projects. CDE added an additional $400,000 for this campaign, which was fully allocated within a few days. The second campaign funded 7,368 projects in 1,385 schools. Of those schools, 41.7% had 50% or more students from low-income households. Top subjects were literacy and language, life skills and STEM.

Graphic that shows the materials distributed during the Donors Choose campaigns and a breakdown of the types of schools.

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Zearn Math gets a second round of funding

Fifth graders Justin Sauzedo, Abraham Lopez and Mike Sanchez use a math program called Zearn Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023 at Marie Greenwood K-8 in Denver.

Gov. Polis recently announced he will provide a second round of funding for Zearn Math for the 2024-25 school year – the innovative and data-driven digital math platform that aligns to the Colorado Academic Standards. This will include free high-quality instructional materials, ongoing training for educators and after-school tutoring resources for K-8 students. 

The state is making this investment to bolster math skills for so many of our students who have struggled in the subject due to the pandemic and multiple years of disruptive learning experiences. 

​“The numbers are clear - investing in improving math achievement for Colorado students just adds up, which is why we are taking bold action to boost math instruction and make sure every Colorado student has the tools and resources they need to thrive,” Polis said. “This data-driven model invests in what we know works, and saves families money on high-impact after-school programming for students from preschool to high school. We are proud to continue partnering with the legislature to continue putting Colorado kids first.”

Currently, 65% of Colorado school districts and more than 920 schools have opted to use Zearn Math for the 2023-24 school year to complement their core instruction through intervention and tutoring. Although it’s too early for results from Colorado schools using Zearn, multiple large-scale studies show students who consistently used Zearn Math each week grew state math scores 2.5 times more than matched students who did not use Zearn.

While it’s critical for students to catch up on missed learning, it’s also just as important for students to continue moving forward with grade-level math. Zearn Math is designed to ensure all students have the opportunity to access and engage with grade-level math concepts while providing adaptive foundational support right when students need it.

Districts or schools that would like free access to Zearn Math can visit about.zearn.org/colorado to learn more and get started.

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The 2024 TLCC Survey survey to open in January

 

TLCC Logo for Spark

Every other year, Colorado teachers have the opportunity to participate in the Teaching and Learning Conditions Colorado survey to anonymously share their opinions on work environments and career satisfaction.

The biannual TLCC survey will open after the beginning of the new year. District and school leaders across the state hope to receive more responses from teachers during the 2024 distribution than in previous administrations. 

In 2022, more than 46,000 educators, special service providers, education support professionals and school leaders responded – which is more than half of the 91,000 staff statewide who are eligible to take the survey. 

Because of the high response rate, we learned that most Colorado teachers think their schools are good places to work and for their students to learn. However, we also know teachers experience continued obstacles in doing their jobs. With more than 10 years of results, we consistently see that a lack of time to prepare for instruction, limited professional development opportunities and little support for new teachers are some of the biggest obstacles.

The survey will run from Wednesday, Jan. 24, until Friday, Feb. 23. Schools and districts will need more than 50% participation and at least five responses to access their data from the TLCC. When the survey window opens, each educator will receive a unique, anonymous code from their teacher association representative or principal. New for 2024, Panorama Education will be administering the survey. 

 For more information and resources, visit the TLCC website.

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Additional news and resources

book logo

 

TEACHColorado.org version 2.0:
TEACH Colorado has launched an updated website! The redesigned homepage more clearly articulates the numerous incentives for ongoing use of the TEACH Colorado platform. The new dashboard experience has customized recommendations for the most relevant content, tools and services based on their individual profile and preferences. The Profile creator allows those who sign up to share (and regularly update) information about who they are, what interests them, and where they are on their path to teaching.

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