Colorado RISE grants to support career training, literacy programs, Indigenous curriculum

Students walk through the hall at Adams City High School between classes Monday, Feb. 4, 2019.
Students at Adams City High School will have access to more career education under one of 19 programs funded through the RISE grant.

Colorado awarded $27 million in education grants to 19 programs aimed at helping students in communities hit hard by the pandemic, Gov. Jared Polis and state officials announced Monday.  

The announcement represents the second round of funding under the RISE grant program, which emphasizes cooperative programs between school districts, charter schools, and higher education institutions to help students who are more likely to suffer long-term impacts from learning disruption caused by the pandemic. Colorado distributed $13 million in the first round

“One thing we know from the pandemic is that it highlighted some of the preexisting gaps that we have in education,” Polis said. “That’s not a short-term fix or something you can change in one school year.” 

This round of RISE grant recipients include the Adams 14 school district, which will get more than $2 million to help high school students graduate with credentials that allow them to get a head start on college or land a good-paying job.

The Ute Mountain Ute tribe in southwest Colorado will get $2.7 million to develop science, math, and engineering curriculum that is integrated with Ute language, arts, and culture for a new school launching there.

And the rural Park County school district will get $343,091 to expand an outdoor science school and provide mobile early intervention services for families in remote areas.

“We know the pandemic hasn’t affected everyone equally,” Polis said, citing English language learners, teenage parents, homeless students, and the children of low-income front-line workers among others. 

The grant program is just a small portion of the federal coronavirus relief for Colorado schools. In addition to money for more immediate needs such as internet hot spots, cleaning supplies, and personal protective equipment, Polis set aside federal money that went to a governor’s discretionary fund for longer-term recovery and closing academic gaps among Colorado students. That fund is providing the money for the RISE grants announced Monday.

For example, the Adams 14 school district based in the working-class Denver suburb of Commerce City is currently under the management of a private company as part of a four-year process to improve academic performance. Most students in the district come from low-income families, and many are also learning English. Even before COVID-19, district officials and members of the external management company had identified a need for more career training and work opportunities for high school students. 

Superintendent Don Rangel said the $2 million grant will allow the district to further develop a partnership with Front Range Community College and area businesses so that all students have the chance to learn about different fields and graduate with either an associate’s degree or an industry credential. The district would struggle to raise that money locally, he added.

Rangel said he hopes that by better connecting education with job opportunities, the district can increase its graduation rate and give students a better start in life.

“This is meaningful for us because Adams 14 is loaded with very talented students who are full of potential,” he said. “When you have a high school that has a lower graduation rate than it should have, educators need to look at how relevant those students think their education is to their current needs and their future needs. By allowing our students to graduate with a certificate or an associate’s degree, not only are we setting our students up for better success after they graduate, we’re increasing the chances that they will graduate.”

Ute Mountain Ute Chairman Manuel Heart said that students who are tribal members generally attend school in neighboring communities and even at boarding schools in other states. In the past, Indigenous students were pressured to assimilate into mainstream culture as the price of getting an education. 

The tribe has been working for several years to develop its own school. The RISE grant will support the development of a comprehensive science, technology, engineering, arts, and math curriculum integrated with Ute language, culture, and arts, as well as providing wraparound services to support students’ social and emotional development.

“We must continue to strive every day to educate our children in our rich history but also look to the future and the future endeavors they will face,” Heart said. 

The state plans to monitor each of the programs and report back on their successes and challenges. The hope is that these programs form models for other communities.

Other grant recipients for this round include: 

  • St. Vrain Valley Schools: $2.8 million for the development of a full-time summer literacy program for kindergarten through fifth graders at schools with lower performance in the Cheraw, Estes Park, Las Animas, Montezuma-Cortez, and Sheridan school districts.
  • Plateau Valley High School: $283,485 for an internship and capstone program that teaches students the basics of coding, crop sensor use, data analysis, and comprehensive skills associated with agriculture production.
  • Adams State University: $2.6 million to create a robust program across all 14 San Luis Valley School Districts, in partnership with the Boys and Girls Club of San Luis Valley. The goal is to prepare San Luis Valley students to meet rapidly changing industry demands that fuel the region’s economic growth and vitality.
  • Hayden School District: $1 million for a cross-district program between Hayden and South Routt school districts to develop hands-on curriculum related to the local food system and agricultural and energy production sustainability. 
  • Montezuma Cortez School District RE-1: $257,138 to expand and improve counseling and academic advising services, with particular attention to students who are most at risk of academic failure. Students will get access to flexible schedules, internships, and personal pathways, in collaboration with local employers.
  • Northeastern Junior College: $1.9 million to enable the institution to better meet the needs and demands of its community by expanding Spanish-language programs, outreach, and adult basic education, and career programs in nursing and solar energy, and helping to remove barriers for nontraditional students.
  • West Grand School District: $792,998 to support families by expanding early childhood education and programming, growing the early childhood education workforce through high school initiatives, and supporting families who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
  • Bennett School District 29J: $2.2 million to create a cross-district program for Bennett, Strasburg, and Weld to improve student mental health across the region.
  • Academy 360 Charter School: $595,700 for 11 charter schools in the Denver metro area to extend the school year to address learning loss for high-needs students. 
  • Charter School Innovation Consortium: $1.4 million for a cohort of 13 charter and innovation schools to create the IDLEA (Increase Diverse Learner Engagement and Achievement) Project, which will deliver strategies and tools to increase engagement for students with disabilities, English-language learners, gifted and talented students, and students eligible for free or reduced price lunch, and to share resources.
  • Campo School District RE-6: $295,000 to provide entrepreneurship and service learning for students in areas such as commercial sewing, jewelry manufacturing, engineering, photography and metal/wood manufacturing.
  • Colorado Mountain College: $2.9 million to rework and dramatically increase concurrent enrollment opportunities for high schools and local institutions of higher education in rural communities.
  • Cripple Creek-Victor School District: $1.5 million to create a “skills to employment” program for both youth and adults that combines classroom instruction with paid workforce training linked to immediate employment opportunities. The goal is to connect people with jobs in high-demand fields that pay a livable wage. 
  • New Legacy Charter School: $250,000 to expand programming that addresses the social-emotional needs and trauma of students who are young parents and ensure students graduate with credentials that help them get jobs.
  • Santa Fe Trail BOCES: $365,000 to create a Pathways to Prosperity program in Cheraw, East Otero/LaJunta, Las Animas, Rocky Ford, Swink, and Wiley.
  • Pueblo Community College: $2 million to partner with rural school districts to improve distance learning and create more opportunities for high school students to take college-level classes. The proposal calls for training more high school teachers and course-sharing across institutions.
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