Derek Franz

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May 2, 2012
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Eagle County ranks 10th for kids

People growing up in Eagle County are in a pretty good place.

The 2012 Kids Count in Colorado Report ranks Eagle County 10th out of the state's 25 most populous counties in overall child well-being.

The report is compiled each year by the Colorado Children's Campaign, a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization. School districts and governments are among many entities across the state that use the annual data.

In the report, Douglas County ranked first and Denver County last. Neighboring Routt County is fifth, Summit is eighth and Garfield is 13th. The overall determinations were based on a composite score of 12 key indicators divided into three categories: health, family and community, and education indicators.

The measured indicators were rates of low-birth weights, uninsured children, child obesity, infant mortality and teen births; single-parent families, children in poverty, births to women with less than 12 years of education and families relying on low-cost food; high school dropout rate, teens not attending school and not working, and fourth-graders reading below grade level. State census data from 2010 also supplements many of the statistics.

In the 2010 census, Eagle County's total population was 52,126 and 24.5 percent, or 12,777, were children under 18. The population under age 5 was 3,881 and 8,896 were ages 5 to 17.

In many aspects, Eagle County is on the better side of the state averages, such as its child obesity rate, which ties for first place with Garfield and Summit counties at 17.1 percent. The average child obesity rate statewide is 26 percent of children ages 2 to 14. In other aspects, Eagle County also scored above the state average in all four Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP) testing categories in 2011.

Among the most concerning stats, however, is an increase in the teen birth rate since 2006, the high school dropout rate of 3.7 percent and the 9 percent of teens ages 16 to 19 who are not working nor attending school.

"A ranking of tenth overall in child well-being is marvelous," said Sherri Almond, Director of Eagle County Child, Family and Adult Services. "Of course we'd like to be first, though, and we do need to increase our community's acceptance that we do have issues to work on."

First, Almond said the county has several aspects that contributed to its high ranking.

"There are a lot of kids here and we are a family-focused community - there is a high standard for children's well-being," she said.

She listed several programs that ranged from accessible prenatal care to the CSU Extension Office's 4-H program that contribute to children's quality of life.

For example, the county's percentage of children without health insurance decreased from 13.2 percent in 2010 to 12.1 percent in 2011.

"There have been some government subsidized programs in the last two years for kids, like Child Health Plan Plus and Medicaid, that have helped stabilize that number," Almond said. "That data wasn't tracked until recently because it wasn't as big of an issue before."

Meanwhile, the number of children living in poverty has increased from 8 percent in 2006 to 12 percent in 2011.

"That could be due to the number of parents who had construction jobs here and are now out of work," Almond said. "Hopefully we'll see those numbers stabilize and decline as the economy recovers."

Almond said the statistic that really jumped out at her was the increasing rate of teen pregnancy. That rate was 17.9 per 1,000 females aged 15 to 19 in 2006, 21.9 in 2010 and 36.2 in 2011. The latest rate places 14th highest out of 24 (two of the 25 counties had the same rate).

Almond said that likely correlates to Eagle County's other statistics of births to women with less than 12 years of education (30 percent), the dropout rate (3.7 percent) and the 9 percent of teens 16 to 19 who are not working nor attending school.

"The teen birth rate among our immigrant population is higher," Almond said. "For many cultures, 12 years of education is quite a bit and these numbers seem to be reflective of those aspects of the immigrant population."

The percentage of teens who aren't in school and aren't working could be attributed to the slowed economy.

"This might be due to kids who were lured out of school for jobs with attractive wages and those jobs aren't there anymore now," Almond suggested.

Another interesting statistic that seems to be related to the immigrant population is that only 18 percent of Eagle County children live in single-parent families. That's the fourth-lowest percentage in the state.

"The immigrant population statistically has a higher rate of two-parent families," Almond said.

Despite an increasing teen birth rate, the county is holding steady with the state's third lowest infant mortality rate - 4.34 per 1,000. Almond attributed that to the county's prenatal care programs and an active, healthy lifestyle in the region.

A large number in the Kids Count report, that is interesting in light of the low child-obesity rate, is the number of families relying on low-cost food. Low-cost food tends to have a lower nutritional value and 33 percent of families here consume it. Eagle County ranks among the highest third in the state for its consumption.

"A contributing factor could be that we have more access to it here, at places where you can buy in bulk and the food is cheaper," Almond said. "It's expensive to buy healthy and organic foods, and the growing season is shorter here."

Almond said the county is looking at ways to increase the number of farmers markets and for ways that people could shop there without cash, like a regular store.

Overall numbers indicate that Eagle County Schools is pretty successful.

Eagle County's 2011 CSAP scores in math, reading, science and writing are all solidly above the state average. The percentages of students proficient or above in math, reading, science and writing, respectively, are 61.4 percent, 71.3 percent, 51.3 percent and 59.7 percent compared to Colorado's averages of 55.7 percent, 67.9 percent, 47.8 percent and 55.3 percent.

"We are always driving to improve," said Brooke Macke, director of communications for Eagle County Schools. "We are always looking for sub-groups to make sure no kid is left behind."

Macke and Heather Eberts, executive director of curriculum, instruction and assessment for Eagle County Schools, said the schools' success is do to a proactive approach. They pointed to the mentor program in which teachers gain professional development and constant evaluation and the fact that the district started preparing to implement the state's new standards when they first came out two years ago.

"We've been getting calls from around the country asking, 'How do you do that?'" Eberts said of the mentor program. "We have a culture of continuous learning. The teachers are always taking steps toward self improvement and I think that's a huge reason we've done as well as we have."

Eberts added that the district tries to be strategic about which goals it targets and when, instead of taking them all on at once. That's where the district's proactiveness on the state standards helped.

Of concern, however, are CSPA results indicating 30.5 percent of Eagle County's fourth-graders are not proficient at reading at grade level. This could be tied the fact that 36.9 percent of its students are English Language Learners.

"I definitely see a correlation between ELL and reading proficiency," Eberts said. "We have programs to help those students but we'll have to look at what literacy skills kids might be missing in earlier grades - and we're on the cusp of having that research done for us."

She said the school district is six months into a three-year grant/study with Harvard University that is aimed at separating factors that contribute to various results.

As for the dropout students, the district has a director of student services who is dedicated to finding and reaching out to those kids.

"The question is, why are they dropping out and what is the recovery plan for when they do?" Eberts said.

The Kids Count Report says that children in full-day kindergarten programs contribute to increased school readiness, leads to higher academic achievement and improves student attendance.

Eagle County has a very high number of children in such a program - 96.7 percent.

"We have a very supportive community," Macke said. "The Vail Valley Foundation has been matching district funds for all-day kindergarten programs."

Almond, Macke and Eberts all basically agreed that it takes a community to help a child grow up properly.

"We get tremendous support from community groups and parents, and it takes a village to raise a child," Macke said.

Almond emphasized the importance of community awareness and participation when it comes to addressing ongoing issues.

"We have high rates of risky teen behavior here," she said. "Alcohol and substance abuse, teen pregnancy and dropout rates all correlate and contribute to child and teen health. People who are more educated tend to be healthier."

She said the community can help by fostering an atmosphere that encourages children to go to school, graduate and go to college.

"There is a lot going on already - there are focus groups, non-profits and the schools are very engaged," she said.

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The VailDaily Updated May 2, 2012 12:49PM Published May 2, 2012 12:43PM Copyright 2012 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.