As a superintendent, when it comes to early learning, I can’t stress enough the importance of the little things. So, a great deal of coordination goes into aligning pre-K curriculum with kindergarten expectations in math, reading and vocabulary — even installing a universal alphabet across classrooms, so kids will always have a bird as their picture clue for the letter “B.”
Assuring quality of pre-K and promoting access, within the district and communitywide, is a top priority at Tyrone Area. I know I have driven the business department crazy trying to squeeze every possible slot for its free pre-K from available funding sources Pre-K Counts, Title I, Keystones to Opportunities and the Educational Improvement Tax Credit program (plus district child care funded through state CCIS and parent tuition, and funding for the district’s role as Early Intervention provider for preschool-aged children.) Our district created a brochure listing quality pre-K programs, and district personnel even shows up at community events — a Labor Day picnic, an Irish heritage festival — to inform parents about quality pre-K opportunities.
The district puts forth the effort because the advantages of quality pre-K are evident.
Among children entering kindergarten from the district’s own pre-K, 78 percent have the skills kindergarten teachers felt were necessary for success. Those children were significantly higher than others in letter knowledge, word and phonemic awareness, and writing abilities, and also in the math functions of counting, number identification and measurement.
If you’re a student struggling, and your classroom environment changes with programs that aren’t connected or aligned, that’s a huge disadvantage. About 80 to 90 percent of students receiving interventions did not attend the district’s pre-K program. They didn’t have preschool and therefore need that opportunity to catch up in kindergarten.
We see the successes of those students that have attended our pre-K and how much further ahead they are. The high-performing district has a Pennsylvania School Performance Profile building-level academic score of 93.3, and a lot of that is probably attributed to our students’ initial entry into our pre-K program.
The same assessments that show academic readiness for kindergarten also show that children from quality pre-K are equipped with curiosity, initiative, persistence, and task analysis. It’s about kids wanting to ask questions, eager to learn, eager to pick up books. We are eager to watch each of them as we begin a new school year.
Cathy Harlow is the Tyrone Area School District superintendent.