Sinclair Oil, CCSD1 preschool initiative getting underway
By Trudy Balcom
RAWLINS — In late May, the Sinclair Oil Corporation announced it planned to partner with Carbon County School District No. 1 on an initiative to fund significant improvements in education for community children.
Next week, Sinclair Oil will present a check for $125,000 to CCSD1 — the first installment on the corporation’s multi-year, multi-pronged commitment to improve education in the Rawlins community.
The four elements of the initiative are: Kindergarten-Readiness, the Scholastic Book Trust, Graduate All Students Successful, and Strive Together Community Engagement.
Work on the first element, Kindergarten-Readiness, is already underway.
Joan Evans, a consultant working for Sinclair Oil to develop the partnership proposals, told the CCSD1 Board of Trustees that Kindergarten-Readiness would be the first element to be put in motion.
Evans said Thursday that getting the program started with the youngest learners would create the greatest benefit.
Screening tests of incoming Kindergarten students at CCSD1 suggest that as many as 44 percent of children arrive at school without the skills that will help them begin their educational careers successfully, Evans said.
Evans said that children who start Kindergarten with inadequate skills are at a much higher risk of never catching up and potentially dropping out of high school.
“If we can narrow that gap, we’re setting them up for success,” Evans said.
Starting in September, an early childhood liaison will begin working with area preschool providers, looking for ways to help them prepare children for Kindergarten.
Louise Stephenson, who has taught in Rawlins schools for 16 years, was selected to fill the position. During her career, Stephenson has taught Kindergarten and first through third grades, Title I reading and, at one time, ran her own private preschool while living in Nebraska and Utah.
Stephenson said that she raised her own family in Rawlins and that she is “excited to give back to the community” as the early childhood liaison.
Evans said that getting Stephenson in the position would give the initiative a jumpstart.
“In my mind, that was the ideal situation — to get someone from the community because so many relationships are already established,” Evans said.
Stephenson said that she is planning to take a collaborative approach to working with area preschool providers.
Preschool teachers, she said, are not required to participate, but she will be able to assist them with resources to enhance learning for the children in their care if they choose to participate.
“We want to work closely with all these providers to help young children in the community, find out what they need, be of service to them,” Stephenson said.
“The first step will be outreach and awareness that this resource is available,” she added.
Not all preschoolers attend preschool; many are at home cared for by family.
Stephenson and Evans are planning on ways to reach out to these children too, with family story hours and books to encourage reading at home.
“If children at the age of 3 are in a literacy-rich environment, they have access to thousands of more words,” Evans said, noting that such access to language gives kids an edge with reading, helping them to become Kindergarten-ready.
Before the partnership with Sinclair Oil, CCSD1 had considered hiring a preschool liaison. Stephenson was among a group of educators from the District that visited a similar program in Thermopolis three years ago.
Stephenson said there was interest at that time in starting a program in Rawlins, but the District lacked the funds to start such a program.
“We’re very lucky Sinclair stepped in,” Stephenson said.
Evans and Stephenson plan to kick-off the program in mid-September and to develop a page for the early childhood liaison on the District’s website, as well as a Facebook page to make the program accessible to acquaint the community with what they will offer.
The other Sinclair-funded initiatives — the Scholastic Book Trust, Graduate All Students Successful, and Strive Together Community Engagement, will build upon the work done with preschoolers in the coming years.
Evans said that the early childhood liaison is just the first step in creating a continuum from “cradle to career” that supports education in the community.