I am very excited to be working on a course this semester on Early Childhood Policies and Systems. In my years spent in early childhood education, I have always been interested in why we do the things we do. Since I was the first Pre-K teacher in my school system, I had to very quickly learn much about the rules and policies governing our program in order to be an effective teacher that followed the guidelines established for a Lottery Pre-K classroom in Tennessee. During the past 9 years, I have worked closely with the State Department to make sure that our program is following policies and meeting the standards for our students. Every year, we establish goals that can make our program better in an effort to continually grow and improve. In this course, I have been asked to think about early childhood policies and systems and set goals that will enable me to be a better educator. These goals are more program orientated than classroom orientated and should focus on making our program more effective.
When thinking of ways to make our program better, I initially think of data collection and how to assess children with the ability to share and compare data with other Pre-K teachers and Kindergarten teachers. We currently pre-screen children in July to determine if visual, motor, or language delays exist and we use that data to divide children evenly based on gender, race, and level of readiness into classes. We feel that this even distribution of varying levels will allow all children to learn from each other and be successful. After school begins in the fall, we give each student a Formative Assessment to establish a base-line for instruction. We re-administer the assessment again in the spring to determine growth for the year. We also pre-and post-test skills taught in each theme of our curriculum to measure growth. While I value the necessary data these assessments provide, I feel that we should have a more standardized measuring tool that would show growth from the beginning of Pre-K until after Kindergarten or even 1st grade. The ability to have multi-year data beginning in Pre-K would be so important when working with our at-risk students and their families by being able to show growth and improvement or challenging areas that needed to be worked on at home.
The second goal that I have for our program is to create a community of practice made up of preschool teachers, directors, Pre-K teachers, and Kindergarten teachers that collaborate in order to share knowledge and collaborate on best practices for our students. I do not believe that “school readiness” means the same thing to all early childhood professionals, but with the presence of Kindergarten Common Core we all must all be on the same page with instructional goals for 4 year olds going forth. By engaging all 4 year old teachers with Kindergarten teachers, that goal can be achieved and ideas can be shared about how to best meet those learning standards. I believe by validating everyone’s role in educating our children, we can build a team that will strengthen our Kindergarten program and benefit all students, but especially those at-risk students. This team should be available to meet regularly before, during and after the school year to support each other and discuss progress monitoring. For too many years, child care prior to Kindergarten has been removed from the scope of public education, but I believe the time is right to join together and work as a team.
The third goal that I have for our Pre-K program is the formation of a Pre-K Committee that includes parents, teachers, and administration with the purpose of assessing our program for strengths and weaknesses each year. We have worked hard to include parents in our program, but their participation has been on the outside looking in. I want to design a questionnaire for parents to fill out at the beginning of the year discussing their expectations and goals for their child’s year in Pre-K. I also want us to seek out parents that would be willing to meet regularly and serve on a committee that will evaluate how our program is meeting the needs of our children and their families. This committee would discuss how to better reach parents and what educational programs would benefit our families. I envision that these committee members would be more accessible to people that might feel intimidated by a teacher, administrator, or the formal school setting. I believe that by empowering parents as part of the educational team, they will encourage each other to be involved and provide important feedback that will improve our program.
The fourth goal I have for our Pre-K program is to seek funding for a before and after school program that will provide our families with high quality care during non-school hours. Some of the families that we serve are employed during certain hours that make it difficult for them to get their child to school on time or pick their child up during our 2:15 pm dismissal. We currently have an after school program, but it is only child care and not academic in any way. I envision a before school program that gives children an opportunity to begin their day playing in learning centers and interacting with peers or working collaboratively to build using manipulatives. Also I would like to provide an after school program that takes the classroom learning to another level through hands-on activities, dramatic play, art, and music. Many of our students that stay for after school care are the same ones that would benefit from extra small group time devoted to mastering the skills that they are lacking. These students would also benefit from extra one-on-one time spent in language acquisition and reading with teachers, assistance, or volunteers.
The fifth and final goal I see for our program would be to work with community leaders to establish a summer program available to all families that would help children continue to be engaged in learning during the months they are out of school. Our at-risk children experience delays during this down time and lose some of the important gains that they made in Pre-K, but by creating a program where they will meet during the summer we can avoid some of that loss of knowledge prior to entering Kindergarten. We are fortunate in my community to have a state-of-the-art public library that provides an excellent summer reading program. We also have recently opened a 10 million dollar Discovery Museum that has an outstanding children’s area. These two facilities can be utlized to provide students and families with enriching family activities during the summer months. By enriching these children’s experiences, language, and background knowledge, they will be better prepared for the world of Kindergarten and all that is expected of them.
Our Pre-K program is outstanding and I am so proud to be a member of such a strong teaching team, but I know that there is work to be done and I am excited for the challenge of the goals I have set for us to make our program even stronger for our students, families, and our community.