Superintendent’s column: Investing in education early generates long-term results
When District 54 broke ground on the Early Learning Center in 2014, we were laying more than the foundation for the building. We were also building a foundation for the more than 700 students who attend classes in that building each year.
Decades of research have shown that a high quality early childhood education leads to future success in school and in life, both academically and socially. Many students come to school from backgrounds that do not provide the experiences required for children to develop basic skills and be ready for kindergarten. A rich, age-appropriate early childhood program can help close those gaps.
District 54 joins the National Association for the Education of Young Children each April in celebrating early learning, young children, their teachers and families during the Week of the Young Child, which is April 24 through 28 this year.
The Week of the Young Child began in 1971 to focus public attention on the needs of young children (birth through age 8) and their families and to recognize the early childhood programs and services that meet those needs. In School District 54, we recognize those needs.
Our Early Learning Center serves children ages 3 to 5 who have been identified as needing special education services due to a disability, as well as children who have been identified as at-risk. At-risk factors can include delays in speech/communication, intellectual processing, social-emotional development, etc. Environmental factors such as low income, non-English speaking household and family structure are also considered when identifying whether a child is at-risk.
We also provide services to families with children ages 0 to 3. Prevention Initiative offers parent-child interaction opportunities and child development information through weekly personal visits facilitated by our Parent Educators. The Parent Educators also facilitate a variety of parent-child classes at four Community Resource Centers.
Investing in Early Childhood education and a high quality learning experience for our youngest and most at-risk learners generates long-term benefits and returns to students enrolled in the program as well as to the community. Multiple studies conducted over more than 40 years indicate quality early childhood education results in a narrowing of the achievement gap, increased brain development, lower retention rates and special education placements, and an increased development of both academic and social skill acquisition for children participating.
In August 2015, we began offering a free, full-day kindergarten program at all of our elementary schools. While some districts charge for this program or offer full-day kindergarten at select schools, we once again looked to the research and felt it was imperative that we offer this option to all of our students.
Research consistently indicates that students in a full-day kindergarten program achieve at higher levels academically than students in a half-day program. A full day of learning early in life can help improve a student’s reading, writing and math skills and provide a strong foundation for future learning. When teachers have more time to teach, they can provide a strong foundation, as well as acceleration opportunities for students.
Research also supports social-emotional benefits from participating in a full-day kindergarten program. Students in full-day programs have more time to become acclimated with the school, staff and peers. They exhibit more independent learning and classroom involvement. Students enrolled in the full-day program also attend physical education, music and art classes, visit the learning center weekly, eat lunch and go outside for recess – all activities that allow for interaction with their peers.
If you have a child who will be 5 years old by Sept. 1, 2017, kindergarten registration has begun. If you have already registered your child, or you child is not quite old enough to start school, there are many things you can do at home to help your child prepare for school. The most important things you can do are talk with your child, listen to your child, read with your child and respond to your child’s natural curiosity. Working together our families and our schools can prepare our youngest learners for future success.
Have your children benefitted from attending our Early Learning Center or full-day kindergarten program? I would love to hear from you. Drop me a note at AndyDuRoss@nullsd54.org or connect with me through Twitter – @D54Supe. We will also be sharing photos and stories featuring our youngest learners this month using the hashtag #woyc17.