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Colorado Gov. Jared Polis reads “Oh, the Places You’ll Go” by Dr. Seuss to kindergartners at Trailblazer Elementary School in Colorado Springs on Jan. 26.

Gov. Jared Polis on Monday announced a second round of grants intended to address learning gaps brought on by the pandemic.

The RISE (Response, Innovation and Study Equity) fund will send $26.6 million to 19 education partners around Colorado to help address three areas: academic loss due to the pandemic that has left many low-income students months or even a year behind academically; addressing mental health needs due to the isolation Colorado students have experienced from the pandemic; and helping students prepare for the changing economic climate brought on by the pandemic.

 The RISE fund is paid for with federal CARES Act funding, although it’s a different funding stream than the first CARES Act money, which had to be spent by the end of 2020. This round of funding comes from the December CARES Act, which has spending deadlines in 2022 and 2023.

The pandemic hasn’t affected all students equally, Polis said during a Monday news conference. The RISE fund is intended to provide extra support for those at risk of falling behind, including low-income students, English Language Learners, those experiencing homelessness and pregnant teens or teen parents.

Polis said the program intends to rethink the links between higher education and K-12 as well as partnerships between higher education, K-12 and industry.

Those who received RISE funding were chosen by a board led by Mike Johnston of Gary Community Investments, and which also included parents, teachers and education leaders. Grantees also received assistance from Gary and the Gates Foundation on strategic proposal design.

Those receiving grants came from all over the state. The largest, at $2.9 million, went to Colorado Mountain College to “sustainably scale concurrent enrollment opportunities” for high schools and rural higher education institutions.

Another $2.8 million went to St. Vrain Valley school to develop a full-time summer reading program for K-5 students at schools with lower performance in Cheraw, Estes Park, Las Animas, Montezuma-Cortez and Sheridan school districts.

Northeastern Junior College in Sterling will receive a $1.9 million grant to expand Spanish language programs, outreach and adult basic education as well as career programs in nursing and solar energy.

The Ute Mountain Ute tribe will receive $2.7 million to create a comprehensive Science, Technology, Engineering, (Native) Arts and Math (STEAM) program integrated with Ute arts, language and culture that can serve as a model for other American Indian and indigenous communities in Colorado and beyond seeking to embed their culture, history and traditions in educational experiences for their youth and provide wrap-around services that support the academic, social, emotional and basic needs of students and families.

Manual Hart, chairman of the Ute Mountain Utes, said the tribe has about 600 children under the age of 18. The tribe has always considered education a priority for the future of their children, he said.

The Campo school district in Baca County will receive $295,000 to provide entrepreneurship and service learning for students in areas such as commercial sewing, jewelry manufacturing, engineering, photography and metal/wood manufacturing.

Nikki Johnson of Campo said that there are 57 students in grades P-12 in the district. The grant will fund three projects, including converting an outdated school bus to a mobile greenhouse that will help teach agriculture and marketing; as well as purchasing specialty equipment in jewelry, wood and photography.

Johnston noted the grant programs will address gaps as they exist now, with locally-grown solutions.

According to a statement from Polis’ office, the state has partnered with the Colorado Evaluation and Action Lab to conduct rigorous evaluations of the RISE grantees so the rest of the state and country can learn from what works. The goal of this process is to ensure that school districts, schools, institutions of higher education, can learn from the best practices developed through these innovative projects.

The first round of RISE grants, announced last November, awarded about $14 million to 13 educational institutions. 

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