Kansas Reading Roadmap and Garden City USD 457 thanked representatives from the local Kansas Department of Children and Families office Thursday morning for a $709,000 grant that will continue to help fund KRR programs in the district throughout the upcoming school year.

KRR Director of Operations Todd Fertig and KRR Director of Family Engagement Steve Thorpe broke down the organization’s programming for a group of DCF Economic and Employment Services employees, who help determine benefits for the local SNAP, childcare and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families programs, the latter of which funds KRR.

“We would just like to show our appreciation for what DCF is doing in poverty alleviation and all the programs that you guys work in,” Fertig said.

The DCF has funded the USD 457 KRR programs with a year-to-year grant since its inception in the summer of 2016. Including the most recent grant, the department has provided over $1.3 million toward the programs, DCF communications director Taylor Forrest said in an email.

The district runs the program for students in kindergarten through fourth grade at five of its elementary schools: Abe Hubert, Buffalo Jones, Florence Wilson, Gertrude Walker and Victor Ornelas elementary schools.

The programs include after-school and summer literacy tutoring and intervention for young, struggling readers. Alongside the more widespread educational components, KRR also offers the Literacy Integrated Family Engagement, or LIFE, program, a family-oriented, eight-week course offered at each KRR school that provides books and meals and focuses on social and emotional intelligence, relationship skills and parents reading to their children.

Thorpe said KRR’s programs not only help students living in poverty get the educational foundation they need to graduate from high school, but also help parents, including immigrant parents, build relationships with the schools and with each other that lead them to jobs, resources and support.

USD 457 Superintendent Steve Karlin has said the district had seen academic, social and emotional growth at the five KRR schools in the district, and that the programs helped slow the typical “summer slide” in curriculum retention.

“Literacy is obviously the great opportunity equalizer that exists for everybody, so to try to narrow that gap for our kids who are underperforming and our kids who are high-performing ... is really a huge priority in our district…” Karlin said. “KRR gives us another opportunity by such a really cohesive connection with what we’re already doing in school.”

USD 457 Literacy and English Learning Language Coordinator Monica Diaz, who used to help coordinate KRR programs in the district, said she’s seen firsthand how the LIFE program helps connect parents to the school and to their children, giving them tools to better participate during parent-teacher conferences or when helping their child.

Diaz introduced Erica Cruz, a tutor at Victor Ornelas’ KRR whose daughter has participated in the program. Cruz said she and her daughter had participated in all three aspects of USD 457’s KRR programming and that they keep her daughter engaged socially and academically when not at school.

Cruz, who is also a paraprofessional at Victor Ornelas, said she especially valued the relationships she’s built with parents through the programs.

“I’ve gotten to meet so many people at a deeper level instead of just employee and parent. And to me, I love it when they come … to me because they know me from the program and they ask ‘I don’t know what this means. I don’t know how to do this,’ and I get to help them and they feel comfortable coming to me,” Cruz said.

Thorpe and Fertig also answered questions about the programs, including who was eligible and the need for volunteers. Before closing, Thorpe addressed the DCF employees once again.

“We really appreciate DCF supporting this program. We appreciate Gov. (Jeff) Colyer supporting this program, and we couldn’t do it without all your help,” Thorpe said.

Contact Amber Friend at afriend@gctelegram.com.