Colorado Mountain College service-learning project reaches out to young readers

By Kristin Carlson

[EDWARDS] – After a wave of deep budget cuts at the national, state and local levels, schools across Colorado are seeking innovative ways to deliver more education for less money, and Edwards Elementary School is no exception.

So when Evan Weatherbie, developmental education instructor at Colorado Mountain College in Edwards, approached EES Principal Heidi Hanssen with a service-learning project designed to help students with different levels of reading abilities at her school, she leapt at the opportunity.

“Most successful readers have had the experience of adults reading to them, but not all kids get that,” said Weatherbie. The program he imagined seemed like a win-win, no-cost way to deliver one-on-one instruction and create a positive reading experience for 4th– and 5th-graders at the elementary school and for the adults in his developmental education class.

Weatherbie explained that many of his own students had frustrating early experiences with reading. “It’s empowering for the adults in my class to be able to provide something that would have benefitted them as children,” he said.

Sharing resources helps build sustainable communities

It was a collegewide sustainability workshop that first prompted Weatherbie to connect with the local public school. Combining resources seemed like a great way to influence literacy and improve sustainability.

“It just clicked,” said Weatherbie, who says the benefits of service-learning opportunities are undeniable. “It’s about equity and creating a great environment for learning. We have so much potential, up and down the I-70 corridor, to help create the kind of communities we all want.”

The program as envisioned by Weatherbie  received full support from the administration and staff at the college’s campus in Edwards, including Peggy Curry, vice president; Mercedes Quesada-Embid, associate professor of sustainability studies; and Lourra Barthuly, campus director of operations.

When EES Principal Hanssen put Weatherbie in contact with teachers Elizabeth Cooney and Amanda Cricco, they jumped on board, too.

Strong personal relationships build better readers

Every Thursday, CMC students paired up with their reading buddies at EES. “The kids really looked forward to those days,” said elementary teacher Cooney. “And I feel the kids have all improved their reading skills.”

Weatherbie also noted improvement in the skill and motivation of his adult students. “When they recognized the value of reading to the kids, they came to recognize its value in achieving their own life goals.”

“I think any extra support the community can offer schools is appreciated,” said Cooney. “The more opportunities kids have to read with adults, the better. We’d love to participate in this program again.”