United Way of Weld County, the Greeley Boys & Girls Club, and the Greeley Chamber of Commerce hosted nearly 100 community leaders, business leaders, teachers, literacy enthusiasts, and parents for a burrito breakfast and community conversation. The crowd seated around tables in the gymnasium exchanged spirited views of what is being done to help kids learn to read and what the local needs are to move things forward. During a tour, Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia saw firsthand how the Club is using research based “structured environment” programs to engage children through music, dance, exercise and learning.
“This is the way we need to make learning and literacy happen,” said Garcia. “Schools alone aren’t enough. In Greeley we see the entire community coming together along with the school district to teach kids how to read.”
Four teenagers — one Hispanic, one Somali, one Ethiopian, and one Thai — read from their self-published book of stories about their lives and their journey to becoming fluent readers of English. As they presented Garcia with a copy of the book, many in the crowd were moved by their stories.
More reading stars came out just a short walk from the Boys and Girls Club at the Greeley Catholic Charities Head Start program. Pre-schoolers listened to Garcia read aloud from Duck on a Bike and offered loud vocal support of Garcia’s now-famous rendition of farm animals. Again, the theme of ‘whole-child’ care was front and center as leaders from the program spoke about the role of nutrition, home-life, exercise and emotional support in a child’s learning success. A big ‘thank moo’ goes out to the dedicated staff of the Head Start program helping to better the lives of dozens of Greeley’s children.
Next at the Fort Collin’s McDonald’s on Timberline Rd., seated in the sparkling indoor play-center, 30 kids from the Young People’s Learning Center gave rapt attention first to Garcia as he again read Duck on a Bike – then to a world-class magician and juggler, Ronald McDonald. Special guests included elected officials from Fort Collins, teachers and McDonald’s staff all there to support the community’s literacy efforts.
Sounds like a full day, right? But that was just through lunch. After lunch the Literacy Week convoy moved on to another community conversation, this one hosted by the Larimer County United Way and The Group, Inc. in their lovely community room. United Way shared information about the multiple literacy programs they have going including the Smart Start effort to help ensure children are ‘classroom ready’ when they come to school and their work to see every Larimer County student graduate from high school.
“A high school diploma is just the threshold,” said Garcia. “We know that in the future 70% of Colorado jobs will require some sort of post-high school training or education. That’s an astounding number and it means that if Colorado is to have the best economy in the country we need to have the best education in the country.”
The day continued with a flash of brilliance at the Harmony Park Community Center, where four years ago a group of indefatigable volunteers partnered with the new owners of the mobile home park to start a literacy program for resident children. Now the entire basement of the community center just got an extreme makeover with carpeting, furniture, toys and books for the sole purpose of housing the Generation Now program. This year’s theme: Star Wars! Princess Leia and Obi-Wan Kenobi made cameo appearances to help lead Garcia around the individual literacy stations where small groups of children practiced reading techniques.
“Seeing the Generation Now program in action was truly amazing,” said Garcia. “This is the community taking matters into their own hands, bringing faith-based volunteers, teachers, parents and business together to help kids read. The force is obviously with this group of folks.”
The day closed with the Drop Everything and Read event at the Children’s Museum in Denver. Representatives from the Denver Preschool Program, Reach Out and Read, the Colorado State Library, and Serve Colorado joined pajama-clad preschoolers and their families to welcome Duck on a Bike author David Shannon to the Mile High City. After a delightful reading in English by Duck on a Bike book author, David Shannon, and in Spanish by Entravision’s Jessica Alvarado, guests received autographed books and discussed the importance of reading to the future success of Colorado’s children.