By Brenna R. Kelly
As her teacher placed alternating large and small plastic stepping stones across the floor of her preschool classroom, student Khloe Dempsey called out “Ok, we’re doing a pattern.”
One by one the 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds balanced on the stones to get to the other side of the room where they chose one of several centers. In the centers they sorted different colored construction vehicles, matched lowercase and upper case letters, made a number line with trucks and created towers with blocks.
Felechia Wainscott’s students were having fun with the construction themed-unit, but they were also learning about balance, weight, colors, letters and numbers.
“I try to incorporate each theme throughout the room, because it provides a base for learning skills and it makes an easy transition for the students going from center to center,” said Wainscott. “It helps students see the continuity and to relate the learning skills that are embedded in each activity.”
When it comes time for kindergarten, Khloe and her classmates will be ready. They are in one of the five full-day preschool classes at Owen County Primary School.
Across the state districts are trying to increase the number of children who start kindergarten ready to learn. Studies have shown that high-quality early childhood education is a critical component of K-12 success and can help close the achievement gap, according to the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood.
This year’s Kindergarten Readiness Screener results showed that half the children in the state were prepared for kindergarten, a slight increase over last year.
While most Kentucky school districts can only offer preschool to children who qualify because they have a developmental delay or because of their family’s income level, many districts are working to make sure all students enter kindergarten prepared for success.
Some like Owen offer full-day classes, others are bringing private childcare providers into their schools and some are teaching daycare providers how to prepare students for kindergarten.
Owen County has offered full-day preschool for more than 10 years and it appears to be working.
More than 72 percent of the students who attended the district’s four-day a week preschool came to kindergarten prepared to learn this school year, according to the screener results.
“Owen County geographically is very large and rural, so the best way to maximize what we are doing is to let the children stay all day,” said Heather Paige Alger, the district’s preschool director. “It helps the community too, because we don’t have a lot of private preschools.”
But the district wants all incoming kindergartners to be prepared. This year 47.1 percent of the students who stayed home before coming to Owen County’s kindergarten were not ready, according the screener results.
So this school year the district started a program to send an educator to homes of children who do not attend the district’s preschool or the one private preschool in the county.
“We are focused on reaching those kids who are either not eligible for preschool or they just don’t attend,” Alger said. The names of students who don’t qualify for preschool are given to the district’s kindergarten readiness outreach educator.
The educator visits the homes to work with children and teach parents how to help their child prepare.
“It’s on a scheduled basis, so it’s not just one time,” Alger said. “The children really look forward to the coordinator coming and working with them.”
Five school districts in northern Kentucky have taken another approach to help more children get ready for kindergarten. The districts, Walton-Verona Independent, Boone County, Newport Independent, Kenton County and Erlanger-Elsmere Independent, offer extended-day preschool through a partnership with Children Inc., a non-profit childcare provider that also advocates for early childhood education.
Children Inc. has classrooms in five elementary schools where children come before or after attending state-run half-day preschool, said René Bricking, Children Inc. director of in-school preschools.
“The beauty of it is there’s no transportation,” Bricking said. Students can either ride the bus in the morning or be dropped off and parents pick up students before 6 p.m.
Parents pay about $140 a week for the extra care, with tuition assistance available, she said.
“There’s collaboration between us and the school and so my teachers work very closely with the preschool teachers,” Bricking said. If a student needs extra help in one area, the preschool teacher will talk to the Children’s Inc. teacher about working with that child, she said.
The teachers use the HighScope curriculum and do assessments twice a year, Bricking said. Though she has not seen the screener results for the five programs, Bricking said, she believes the students leave the program more than ready for kindergarten.
But knowing how the students did on the BRIGANCE would be helpful, she said.
“If they will share with us, it’s going to help the kids, it’s going to help the district,” Bricking said.
Recently Erlanger-Elsmere Independent has started an effort of bring all of the early childhood education providers in its boundaries together to increase kindergarten readiness, she said.
“We’re all working together to ask, ‘How do we get this working so that we are all sharing information and getting these kids where they need to be?’” Bricking said.
In Simpson County, the district’s preschool administrators invite daycare providers to Franklin Elementary for professional learning and send preschool teachers to the daycare centers to work with students and teachers.
It’s a chance to let daycare teacher know what students should know before kindergarten and to increase communication, said Principal Stacy Raymer.
Lori Chaffin, the school’s curriculum coordinator, also aggregates the BRIGANCE results and shows each center how the children from that center did on the test.
“We wanted to form a partnership with the daycares to let them know, these are what the expectations are for kindergarten and maybe people don’t realize that,” Chaffin said. “Kindergarten now is not like what kindergarten was when these kids’ parents were in kindergarten. It’s much more rigorous now and expectations are lot higher.”
The school also brings future kindergarteners and their parents to the school at least three times before the start of kindergarten. The school advertises the program, called Little Cats, at daycare centers, on the radio and through social media, Raymer said. They are also planning to spread the word through the library, churches and the health department. The hope is the reach the students who are not enrolled in preschool, Head Start or private childcare.
“We want to be able to reach these students to give them every opportunity to have the opportunities of the children that come here prior to kindergarten,” Raymer said.
The most recent screener results showed that only 17.4 percent of the students who stayed home were prepared for kindergarten.
At the most recent Little Cats meeting students and parents learned about the school day at Franklin Elementary and took tours of the school. The children also received kindergarten readiness back packs provided by the school’s family resource center and the Early Childhood Community Council for Allen, Logan and Simpson counties.
In addition to teaching parents and students about how to get ready for kindergarten the program also makes students and parents feel more at home in the preschool through kindergarten building, Raymer said. That means the meaningful instruction can happen as soon as school begins.
The district also receives support from the Preschool Pals program, part of the $41 million Race to the Top grant awarded to a consortium of school districts in the Green River Regional Education Cooperative and the Ohio Valley Education Cooperative. Eight preschool pals provide outreach to daycare centers in the 22 participating districts.
“We’re all working together. Before we had so many people working in isolation,” Raymer said, “Everybody had good intentions but when we work together and we’re able to pull our resource s and ideas and suggestions and put them all out there, it has really become an extension of what we do daily here at school.”
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