Volume No. 16 Issue No. 3 March 2019  

   A grant on top of a grant
  By Lindsey Harrison

     In October 2018, El Paso County Colorado School District 49 received a grant from the United States Department of Defense Education Activity Agency to expand the grant received in 2017 from the Illumination Goals Nurturing Interests Towards {Engagement (IGNITE) program.
   Mary Velasquez, IGNITE project manager with D 49, said the original five-year grant allowed the district to offer military-connected students a chance to explore the science, technology, engineering, arts and math fields while in elementary school; and foster that interest throughout middle school. The goal is for those students to have a good idea of the career pathways and elective opportunities they want to ponder in high school.
   The new grant, called IGNITE: Expedition, will allow the district to offer additional technological and camp opportunities to qualifying elementary and middle school students with a focus on the STEAM subjects, Velasquez said. In particular, the grant will provide funding for a mobile learning lab, she said.
   “Bus 37 in our fleet will be a mobile learning lab,” she said. “It will have virtual reality type learning opportunities. We are going to have it available throughout the district during the year and then at camps during the breaks. Those camps, which are also funded through the DOD grant, will be offered first to the military-connected students and then open to the general population.”
   District 49 launched a new program called Families Invested in Reading Excellence at the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year, which is also funded through the original IGNITE grant, Velasquez said. Initially available for first and second graders connected to the military, FIRE is an at-home resource that supports students in recognition, decoding and other areas of reading in which they might be struggling, she said.
   “What we have found is that without a good solid foundation with all of the cognitive reading skills, like audio processing, visual processing and mindset, some of the challenges students have in reading can transfer to other areas like the STEAM fields,” she said. “We felt it was really important to try to identify some of those challenges for our students and fill some of those gaps.”
   Currently, the FIRE program has 45 students enrolled; but, at the end of February, the district made the program available to all military-connected kindergarten through fifth-grade students, including those attending D 49 charter schools, Velasquez said.
   “We got impact aid data, and any school that is 15 percent or higher in military population qualified for the FIRE program, which is pretty much all of our elementary schools,” she said.
   Although the new program is up and running well, volunteers to act as family ambassadors are needed, Velasquez said. Family ambassador volunteers are important because they fill the need for personal connection with the students and their families, she said. The FAV position, which should require no more than about 10 hours per week, is an entirely online position; and training for it is provided through the program, Velasquez said.
   “Volunteers log into the system to see the families they support and see the days the student is logging in,” she said. “They can see really simple information like how well a student is doing on a task for that day, but it will also tell you if they need support or attention.”
   Feedback and data have shown that the FIRE program is making a difference for students who are using it appropriately and consistently, Velasquez said.
   Although FIRE is only available now for military-connected students, Velasquez said her team is offering a couple of pilot FIRE programs for schools if they would like to use them for an entire class.
   As with any grant-funded program, Velasquez said her department is closely monitoring the program to determine how the students are best served and the areas that don’t meet expectations, as well as whether the program will be sustainable through district funding.
   The IGNITE and FIRE program grants run through March 2022, while the IGNITE: Expedition grant runs through May 2023, she said.
   For more information on volunteering, contact Mary Velasquez at mvelasquez@d49.org or visit http://d49.org/FAV to complete the volunteer form.
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