By Susan Riddell
Once a month during the school year, Connie Johnson’s preschool students at Country Heights Elementary School (Daviess County) get a special visit from community librarian Christine Gish.
Recently, Gish introduced a book, Old Black Fly, by Jim Aylesworth, with a special prop: a giant flyswatter.
“It was about four times as big as a regular flyswatter,” Johnson said. “She surprised them with it at the end of the book. Throughout the book she would ‘shoo’ the fly on each page, and at the end of the story she brought out the giant flyswatter. (She had it hidden.) and swatted the fly in the book. They were surprised, and they thought this was funny. The children loved it.
“The public library is a great community partner,” Johnson added.
It’s also one of many partners the preschools in the Daviess County school district collaborate with throughout the school year.
“Community partners enable us to bring the community into our classroom,” Johnson said. “This helps our preschoolers and their families become more aware of the resources available in the community.”
Johnson has a blended classroom with morning and afternoon sessions that serve 32 students, 13 of which have disabilities. The students anxiously await Gish’s arrival each month.
“She begins each time she is here with a good morning song,” Johnson said. “Then she introduces her book. She usually has some sort of prop that goes along with her stories. She also does finger puppet plays. She always ends her time with a goodbye song and provides stickers for the children.
“Throughout the year there have been activities at the public library that she will tell the students about, and she will then give them something to take home to let their parents know about that activity. When she was here in April she gave each student a bookmark with information regarding the summer reading program. The main objective for the program is early literacy skills.”
Johnson said the library staff members visit 72 sites in Owensboro and Daviess County which includes Daviess County preschools, all Audubon Head Start Programs and some private daycares.
Others community partners include the Audubon Area Community Services Head Start program, local police and fire departments, military services and Imagination Library.
“We not only collaborate with our community and Head Start, but family collaborations are essential to our teachers because when we all work together, we can serve more children and provide hands-on experiences,” said Daviess County preschool coordinator Janet Land. “By working together, we can brainstorm possible resources to better serve our children.”
The Daviess County preschool program serves more than 600 children through programs in 12 elementary schools. Four schools have two preschool classrooms. Children attend Mondays through Thursdays with morning and afternoon session options.
The program uses the Kentucky Early Childhood Standards and Teaching Strategies Gold as its assessment and bases its lessons on the standards.
“Although many preschool programs across the state get district and community support, this is what sets us apart,” Land added. “Our superintendent, central office administration and principals consider high-quality early childhood education a priority, and our preschool program is considered a valuable part of our district. The goal of our preschool is to provide high-quality early experiences because we believe that a child’s early experiences can set in motion a chain of events that positively influence his/her life through high school and beyond.”
Land said Daviess County serves 34 3-year-olds who don’t qualify for services through the local Head Start program. These students are housed at Eastview and Audubon elementary schools.
“We receive a great deal of community support,” Land said. “The public library comes into our program to share the love of reading; firefighters, police officers, and EMTs come to our classrooms to share with our students, and countless other community facilities welcome us for field trips for minimal or no charge,” she said.
Recently, the local Lions Club provided eye screenings for preschoolers through a collaborative effort with staff members and the Family Resource and Youth Services Centers.
Daviess County is one of several districts that work with the Audubon Area Community Services Head Start program. This program works with 18 school districts in 16 different counties in the western Kentucky area.
The Head Start program is one of only 25 programs in the nation to achieve recognition as a national Program of Excellence by the National Head Start Association. Audubon Area Community Services Head Start has held this distinction since 2000.
Audubon Area Head Start Director Peggy Grant said the program partners with districts to maximize resources for all preschool programs.
That way “more children receive early intervention services,” Grant said. “Transition from preschool to kindergarten is greatly enhanced when the children are already in the school setting.”
“Programs also collaboratively develop and share professional development opportunities to support shared outcomes and expectations for children’s growth and academic achievement,” she added.
Grant said Audubon Area Community Services Head Start has collaborative professional development with school districts dealing with High 5 Mathematize curriculum; Conscious Discipline, a classroom management technique; and using the child assessment tool GOLD.
“Audubon Area Community Services Head Start and Daviess County Preschool work together to provide professional development, training and resources,” Johnson said. “As a Head Start partner, our district receives a significant discount on our online assessment. We work together so that we can provide the highest quality early education possible by sharing ideas, best practices and troubleshooting.”