Earlier this year, pediatricians at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center found that reading to a toddler activates brain networks that support budding literacy.
This week, Colorado Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia also found that reading to preschoolers conjures beaming smiles. From Dolores to Towaoc, Garcia took time to directly interact with some 200 preschoolers by reading, “How Do Dinosaurs Get Well Soon?”
“Does he whimper and whine between each At-choo?” Garcia read, covering his mouth and nose.
“No,” the students responded in unison with chuckles and grins.
As Garcia wrapped up the children’s story, students were subsequently given their own copy of the book. Each promised to share their new literacy treasure with siblings and ask their parents to read it to them again.
“Here in Colorado, too many kids, about a quarter of all kids, aren’t reading proficiently at the third grade level,” Garcia explained. “We know those kids are less likely to graduate, less likely to move onto higher education, and that impacts our state economy.”
On a statewide tour to highlight the importance of early childhood literacy, Garcia visited Southwest Colorado on Monday, Sept. 28. He read to preschoolers in Dolores, Cortez and Towaoc as the state commemorated Literacy Week.
“There’s a lot of need here, and often this part of the state gets overlooked,” said Garcia on visiting Southwest Colorado. “We want people here to know that what they’re doing is important.”
By the end of the journey across the Centennial State, officials estimate that Garcia will have delivered books to some 75,000 toddlers.
“We want to raise awareness on the importance of families and schools to early childhood literacy,” said Garcia. “We want to improve opportunities for kids.”
While visiting preschoolers in Towaoc, officials informed Garcia that the reservation lacked adequate fiber optic lines for hi-speed Internet access to ensure its 56 preschoolers were connected to the outside world.
Citing a sophisticated connected library, for example, could serve as a magnet for the community’s continued education, Ute Mountain Ute higher education director Scott Baker said the fiber optic lines out of Cortez stop at the reservation border.
“Until we can build that infrastructure, then we’re going to be hampered,” said Baker. “We’re still going to be a three-legged dog.”
In addition to high speed Internet, Ute Mountain Ute education director Tanya Amrine said the tribe needed additional resources to upgrade its library offerings. The library once checked out about 50 books daily, but the service has been discontinued due to a lack of web-based connectivity.
“We don’t have a viable library,” said Amrine. “We call it books on shelves.”
Amrine explained the facility had the computers and software programs needed to establish a modern checkout system, but additional upgrades were needed before it could be operational.
“We need money,” said Amrine. “We don’t even have a full-time librarian.”
Dolores Superintendent Scott Cooper was both surprised and excited to learn of Garcia’s visit to the Teddy Bear Preschool in Dolores. The educational center, which has 64 current students, is accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, a distinction held by only three percent of preschools across the country.
Speaking directly to Garcia during a tour of the facility on Monday, Cooper asked for additional state funding. He specifically outlined financial woes the district has faced due to the negative factor, a legislative work-around that’s slashed funding for public education by about $1 billion in recent years.
“Our funding was cut by 12 percent this year alone because of the negative factor,” Cooper said.
Montezuma-Cortez Re-1 Superintendent Alex Carter welcomed Garcia to the Beech Street Preschool, stating he was thrilled that a high-level official recognized the importance of early childhood education. Some 90 students attend the district’s preschool.
“Having the community see role models like Lt. Gov. Garcia share stories with our students reinforces the importance of reading to your children,” said Carter.
Despite receiving added state-funds this year to increase preschool enrollment, Carter said he wanted to convey to Garcia that the district still faced challenges to ensuring that all eligible students received early educational opportunities.
“There are a lot of students in our community, and their needs for preschool education remain unmet,” said Carter. “We know if a kid gets a great preschool education, then our jobs are a lot easier once they get to kindergarten.”