In a wave of federal spending cuts last June, BEACON lost its Title I funding, forcing the after-school program to cut its kindergarten and first grade services at Helen M. Knight Elementary (HMK).

“We had to cut somewhere,” said Stephanie Dahlstrom, Grand County’s BEACON coordinator. “And then I was bound and determined to find funding to replace that.”

BEACON is the acronym for Building Essential Assets through Community Outreach and Networking. Created in 2005 with money from the state office of education, BEACON provides afterschool programs for elementary through middle school students.

It focuses on academic and social assistance programs that focus on core school curriculum concepts, life skills, and opportunities for kids to explore a new interest, sport or talent

Since June, BEACON has found money from various sources, including generous private donors, to restore the enrichment programs for these early grades starting in January. The enrichment program consists of a variety of clubs that range from Taiko drumming to newspaper writing and production.

Academic assistance in the form of tutoring for kindergarten and first grade, however, remains unfunded and closed.

According to the American Educational Research Association, children who fail to acquire adequate reading skills in first grade often continue to have difficulties.

“The first three to four years of education are crucial years,” said Michelle Onderko, the academic coordinator at HMK. “You can see that in the kids who started school when they had a shortened kindergarten day compared to all of the other kids. They’re still struggling to catch up.”

BEACON tutors help students in these early grades develop the core reading skills they’ll need to progress successfully in their education without getting left behind.

The HMK Community Council will fund one tutor in the new year, enabling BEACON to serve four kindergarteners, as the tutor to student ratio is four to one. About 36 kids in kindergarten through first grade are now in need of tutoring services.

“We know that tutoring helps,” Dahlstrom said.

Last year, a total of 169 elementary students received academic assistance. Of those who spent a minimum of 30 days in the tutoring program, 85-percent improved their grades.

BEACON will work with volunteer tutors if available.

“It’s great if they have some teaching background. Tutors also go through some rigorous training at the beginning of the year so we would be looking for people who already have that,” Dahlstrom said.

As of yet, they do not have volunteers with whom to work.

Ideally, BEACON would like to use the six tutors they already have in place serving second through sixth grades. If funding were found, these tutors are prepared to extend their hours to cover kindergarten and first grades.

Most of the money BEACON staff is now raising will not be available until the 2013-2014 school year.

“Grants and fundraisers take time,” Dahlstrom said.

To restore their full tutoring program for kindergarten and first grade for the remainder of this school year, BEACON needs quick access to $8000 to $10,000.