In an effort to help next year’s Emmett kindergarten students be better prepared for school BEFORE they enter school, the Emmett School District is piloting a Kindergarten Readiness Program this spring. Developed by a committee led by elementary principal Greg Alexander (Kenneth J Carberry Elementary), the pilot involves screening next year’s kindergartners when they register for school this spring. The screener will assess the child’s age-appropriate, early-learning skill level.
Every child who participates in the screening will receive a backpack that will include a toolkit of materials, activities, and lessons that parents can use with their children 15-20 minutes a day over the spring/summer that will reinforce skills such as identifying shapes, colors, numbers, and counting to 10. They’ll receive an early learning reading and language arts program adapted from the Lee Pesky Learning Center that was developed in part by Cindy Roberts, the Emmett Director of Curriculum. These materials will help with letter recognition and related reading skills. The backpacks will include crayons and scissors with activities to help children develop their tactile skills. Besides the backpack, every child who participates in the early screening, will have their name entered in a drawing that will be conducted next fall. The grand prize in the drawing will be a bicycle for a kindergarten student at both Carberry and Shadow Butte.
In addition to Principal Alexander, the committee that developed the backpack program included Todd Adams (Principal, Shadow Butte Elementary), members of the district’s preschool and kindergarten staff, as well as community members from WICAP Headstart, several private preschool and day care providers, and Sen. Steven Thayn (District 8). Sen. Thayn, who has opposed state funding for preschool and kindergarten, acknowledges that “parents don’t always know what to do in order to help their children be prepared for school.” Sen. Thayn was instrumental in bringing the committee’s school and community stakeholder groups together to discuss how to create a local strategy.
The state currently provides funding for half-time kindergarten. There are no state funds allocated for preschool. The toolkits and activities provided to parents will provide them resources to work with their children at home. This, according to Thayn, falls well within his philosophy that the primary educators of children are their parents who should be supported in their efforts by their community schools.
The rationale behind the kindergarten readiness program comes from the experiences the district staff has had working with kindergarten children that come from poverty and the data the district receives each fall after the first administration of the Idaho Reading Indicator (IRI) assessment.
For example, this past fall, less than 41% of the kindergartners at Carberry performed at grade level on the IRI (composite scores) and less than 35% at Shadow Butte. Additionally, only 19.1% of the Carberry kindergartners scored at grade level on the Letter Recognition subtest and fewer than 11% at Shadow Butte.
In response to the data and their experiences working with the children in school, the Emmett teaching staff and administrators found themselves attempting to conduct intensive intervention and remediation strategies to help close the gap for students. Some of those strategies, including full day kindergarten for identified low performing students, stretched the district’s thin resources. This prompted a discussion surrounding how to help parents help their students come to school ready to learn.
The Kindergarten Readiness Program’s distribution of backpacks and educational toolkits is an attempt to provide resources and encouragement to the families of next year’s kindergarten students to engage their children in age appropriate early learning activities that can increase the likelihood that the children experience early success as they start their k-12 journey in school. It’s a strategy with few downsides and potentially significant rewards.