PreK and Kindergarten Connections: One Community's Story
How do you start to create PreK-to-Kindergarten connections when your community includes dozens of early childhood programs and schools? This is the story of the Evanston Cradle to Career's (EC2C) “Learning on Track” Action Team. Thanks to Carol Teske, Executive Director of the Childcare Network of Evanston and co-chair of the Action Team, and to Shelia Merry, EC2C Executive Director.
Very little was known about the early learning experiences of the 750+ incoming School District (SD) 65 (read key facts about District 65 and EC2Cs “Why Equity?” Statement) Kindergarten students in 2015 when the Action Team began its work. The need, however, was clear: little more than 50% of new Kindergartners scored as “ready” on the District’s Illinois Snapshot of Early Literacy (ISEL) test.
To learn more, the Action Team created a few, simple supplementary questions that were added to the online kindergarten registration form. Using drop-down menus on the form, parents were asked to identify PreK experiences their child had after age 3, where they were enrolled, how often/how long they attended, and whether their child had received academic instruction in a language other than English. By February 2016, these supplemental questions were piloted, and a month later they officially became part of the Kindergarten enrollment process. (Special Note: School District 65 policy requires pilot programs before officially adopting initiatives.)
Through a data-sharing agreement, specially-deputized Cradle to Career members analyzed the de-identified data and learned that percent of incoming Kindergarten students had been enrolled in early childhood programs.
The Action Team also realized that developing a common definition of Kindergarten Readiness would be a powerful collaboration tool. District instructional leaders, together with a small cohort of early childhood educators and kindergarten teachers, created the Strong Start to Kindergarten-Student Goals for Educators, released in September, 2016. The Strong Start goals focused on five priority areas (domains) based on Teaching Strategies GOLD assessment and Illinois Early Learning Standards.
In February 2017, the Action Team’s work began to accelerate, beginning with the Strong Start PreK/Kindergarten Summit. The now-annual Summit brought together 110 teachers to learn more about the Strong Start Initiative, contribute to its development, and build relationships with each other.
To foster seamless transitions between PreK and Kindergarten, the Strong Start PreK & Kindergarten Educators Partnership Pilot was created to encourage PreK and Kindergarten teachers to visit each other’s classrooms.
The Action Team also successfully piloted the Strong Start to Kindergarten Feedback Form, enabling PreK teachers to share student progress on the Strong Start priority goals and insights about their “graduating” student with his/her new Kindergarten teacher. Preschool educators submitted 75 Feedback Forms as part of this pilot!
Now… and Next
In Summer 2018, principals and Kindergarten teachers received 400 Strong Start Feedback Forms for incoming Kindergarten students (out of approximately 800). PreK teachers are eager to learn more details how their feedback helped Kindergarten teachers support their students and families.
The Strong Start Classroom Partnership—also no longer a pilot—has kicked off with a fall orientation and the first of two PreK and K classroom visits. Early childhood teachers visit their partnered Kindergarten teachers first. In the spring, the process will be reversed. All teachers go to the district office immediately afterwards to debrief the visits as a group.
What’s next for the collaboration? The 2019 PreK/K Teacher Summit is already scheduled! A new Parent Activity Guide, aligned to the Strong Start to Kindergarten Student Goals will be published soon and includes fun learning activities for families of PreK students in early learning settings and throughout the community.
The Evanston Cradle to Career’s Strong Start initiative is now well on its way, having made new and vital connections between early childhood and District 65.
Let’s cheer them on as they work towards their ambitious, collective goal of 85 percent of children being kindergarten-ready by 2025!
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