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The Value of Early Childhood Education

South Shore PK-8 Teacher Matthew O'Connor - League of Education VotersBy Matthew O’Connor, Guest Blogger

I came to teaching at South Shore because of previous experience with Teach for America, working in a Head Start classroom in Houston with 3- and 4-year-olds. This inspired me to become an Early Childhood Education teacher.

I am a pre-K and kindergarten teacher at South Shore PK-8 in Rainier Beach. This is my seventh year teaching (fourth year at South Shore) and I work with five other colleagues, three lead teachers, each partnered with a full-time classroom teammate. Our vision for students begins with the belief that every student can be at grade level when they move on to first grade.

Moving forward from that belief, my team considers the reality that the American public education system does not mirror the histories or lived realities of students of color. To respond to this truth, we try to build classroom experiences that combine content and student identity in order to develop a good foundation of academic and social-emotional skills as well as a good sense of self and family. We hope that, in the future, this will allow them to tell their story of self in order to advocate for themselves and their community, reveal truth, interrupt bias, and encourage healing.

We loop with our students, starting with them as preschoolers at 4 years old, and stay with them as kindergarteners. Because of getting to work with our students for two years, we develop deep relationships between us. The students we have are very diverse, from multiple ethnic and racial backgrounds: immigrants, refugees, communities of color, many low income.

For most of our students, it is the first experience that they have with the American education system, and it is a privilege and a burden. It is a privilege because if we do our work right, they obtain a good foundation about what being in school means. They come to understand that the quality education that is their birthright includes a teacher who cares about them and listens authentically to their needs. They also know that this education includes discussions about what is happening in their community. They hopefully come to understand that it is school that must respond to their needs and the stories they bring—not the other way around. It is a burden to know that we send them off as six-year-olds and that they have twelve more years to finish their education, because they may not receive an education that continues to support them to be the best that they can.

Some projects that we do include a unit on developing preschoolers’ sense of self – we interview students about their favorite food, color, they create body shapes and mix paints to match their own skin color, we interview students and parents about their names, why they like their names and what their names mean. We also do two family projects. One is a family tree in which they identify family members in multiple generations. The other is a genetic one about students’ hair, skin, and facial features. Students write what they learn about their families, and what they learn is compiled into a book. At the end of the unit we have a publishing party where students share their work with their families.

Parents are also actively involved in our program. One way is that we invite them to give input on choosing the top 12 priorities that they wish to see students learn. Later they assess their children’s teachers on how they have done to implement these priorities into their children’s lessons. This is done through a tool developed by the Teaching Excellence Network. My team members and I also conduct Chalkboard Chats for parents on different topics – some are academic, focused on how to do a great read along with your children.  For others, community experts were invited in to discuss issues of parenting—such as talking to young children about racial identity or what to do if you expect your student is exhibiting atypical academic or social behavior.

The value of early childhood education is that it gives children a good foundation on which to build for their succeeding years in school – besides academics, students develop a good sense of self and family, and learn that their actions, no matter how small, can help make the world better.

Posted in: Blog, Closing the Gaps, Early Learning

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Making a Splash to Improve Literacy in Kent

By Joyce Yee, LEV Community Organizer

Kent School District Summer Splash - League of Education VotersThe Kent School District’s Summer Splash Reading program is a pilot summer program to help students improve their reading literacy levels and skills, funded by the Race to the Top Initiative. The district is partnering with King County Housing Authority and Kent Youth and Family Services to provide support to families at the Birch Creek housing community.

Summer Splash began in the summer of 2015 and is scheduled to end in summer of 2017. The district provided three teachers to work with students grades Pre-K through 6th, Kent Youth and Family Services provided three classroom assistants, along with three older students who are in high school or alumni of the district, to help out. Students are divided into three classrooms, with 25 students in each.

While their main focus is on kindergarten readiness and improvement in reading literacy, Summer Splash uses a whole child approach. They use the American Reading Company curriculum, and students read factual material on topics such as science. The pre-kindergarten students sit together in a kindergarten academy that helps them with readiness for kindergarten, four hours a day for eight weeks. Older students in grades 1–6 work on improving literacy skills through reading texts and doing research reports, and meet 2 hours a day for 7 weeks.

The student demographic at Birch Creek is mostly Somali, Latino, Iraqi, Russian, Ukrainian, as well as Black/African American. The Kent Youth and Family support staff, and summer school coordinator intentionally recruited students from various ethnic backgrounds by knocking on families’ doors, going to Pine Tree and Millennial Elementary schools to hand out applications, and making phone calls to such families in order to get them to enroll their children in this program. Students in the program have already made measurable gains in reading test scores. Of the 75 students who participated, 66 completed pre and post assessments. All students who participated maintained and improved their grade reading level, average reading growth level was 0.19 years, 4th – 6th grade students had a higher average reading growth level of 0.28 years.

The Kent School District is also working on sustainability of the program after the Race to the Top funding goes away. In the first year, they recruited teachers who weren’t experienced at working with students from diverse demographics. In 2016, they recruited two district teachers from schools with demographics that reflect Birch Creek families, as well as one Kent Youth and Family Services (KYFS) teacher. This year, they will recruit only one district teacher, and two KYFS staff teachers. Professional development has been job-embedded for all staff members working with these students so that the program will be more sustainable.

During the year, Summer Splash provides afterschool homework help including reading and math. Older students are recruited to be reading buddies with younger students. This is in response to 2015 data showing that students were still 2–3 years behind grade level, and older students in grades 4 through 6 are embarrassed to ask for help. Older siblings and cousins read to younger kids. This approach helps the older students to avoid being embarrassed to read materials at lower grade levels with younger students and learn at the same time.

Shouldn’t programs like Summer Splash be part of basic education?

#BeyondBasic

 

Read LEV’s blog post on Student Supports, an Integral Component of Basic Education

Posted in: Blog, Closing the Gaps

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Activist of the Month: Heather Wallace

By MyKaila Young, LEV Intern

January League of Education Voters Activist of the Month Heather Wallace

January Activist of the Month Heather Wallace

At the League of Education Voters (LEV), we recognize all of the hard work that you do toward improving public education across Washington state. We are pleased to announce our Activist of the Month for January: Heather Wallace.

Every New Year brings the opportunity for infinite possibilities. As the year begins, I’m sure you wonder about all the people, events and experiences that will occur over the next 364 days. Being in the right place at the right time opens the right doors to many of the great experiences and people that will make the year worthwhile, and that was the case for Heather Wallace when she crossed paths with LEV Spokane Regional Field Director Sandra Jarrard.

Heather’s background is in sociology, and she is connected with the importance of what many may call “Overall Life Experience.” One thing that stood out to me about Heather was that she’s not concerned with numbers and statistics, but how things really are and ways to address issues that may be viewed as broken or problematic.

For 15 years, she worked mainly with adolescents and then went on to the administrative level of medical management. When she wasn’t making an impact in the way she had envisioned, she did something about it and went back to school and eventually attained a Masters in Communication and Leadership Studies with a focus in dialogue and community development. She currently works at Spokane Regional Health District in a program that she very much enjoys called Neighborhoods Matter. This is a program that focuses on the social determinants of health and how to improve neighborhoods to in turn improve the overall health of the community at large.

Neighborhoods Matter works directly with residents to identify their neighborhood’s health and safety concerns, and then they work to address these concerns in the best way possible. They leverage community resources and focus on how to connect and advocate for safer neighborhoods. Heather says, “Safe neighborhoods mean people are out more and active, which contributes to long-term success.”

With the help of LEV, the Inland Northwest Early Learning Alliance, and the Spokane Regional Health District, Heather put together a conference that focused on realistic accountability. Sometimes quality is better than quantity, and that was surely the case for last month’s Spokids 2020, where the overall experience and discussion contributed to great strides for changes and hopes in 2017. Being lower in numbers but higher in perspectives allowed people to come together in a way that allowed many thoughts and ideas to come together and move forward. Collectively, everyone came up with action plans to help envision how that will look.

With so many organizations working to improve education and support families in need, and all the many changes that occur within various positions at numerous organizations, Heather sees great work being done at many different levels, which is something that is encouraging to us all.

The Spokids 2020 conference was a great way to figure out how similar organizations and families could come together, develop common goals, and leverage partner organizations to work together with the idea of a common community goal. Heather’s common community goal is that all children in Spokane County will achieve social-emotional readiness by kindergarten.

Next month, Heather hopes that word will spread about Spokids 2020’s useful discussions in order to home in on specific projects and areas of focus that will be able to identify success and how conference participants plan to measure progress as a group.

From a public health perspective, social-emotional health serves as the foundation for academic indicators and how likely a child is to succeed. Addressing these issues are imperative because if students are living in unhealthy environments and don’t have access to primary medical care and their basic needs aren’t being met, especially on an emotional and social level, they can’t learn. Heather is advocating for student supports and ways to measure a child’s social-emotional health early in the education continuum, which will help with discipline and a wide range of other issues that teachers have in the classrooms.

A student’s behavior reflects their social-emotional health and not their intelligence. I think we can all agree that we shouldn’t blame the child for the shortcomings of a system that isn’t tailored to the needs of every student, but instead we should blame the lack of resources that prevents the child from moving forward. A start in the right direction until we can get adequate resources for all students is to figure out ways to positively impact a child’s social-emotional health, which is why Heather’s work is vital for communities throughout Washington state.

Heather has three daughters, and she hopes her daughters will find work that they are passionate about. She hopes that they travel and learn about other cultures, and go on to be lifelong learners. Heather says, “A paycheck will only take you so far, and if you can’t find meaning in the work that you are doing, then money will never make you happy.”

Posted in: Activist of the Month, Advocacy and Activism, Blog

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