Community Foundation’s focused grants use the basics to successfully ease learners into school
Preparing kids for kindergarten takes a lot more than new outfits and freshly packed lunches. It takes a village according to Susan Fronckowiak. She found this out after her son Alex had difficulties excelling in preschool classes offered by the Washougal School District.
Thanks to Alex’s early enrollment, teachers spotted his communication barriers and recommended that Susan look into Ready, Set, Kindergarten! This full-day program, funded in part by a Community Foundation for Southwest Washington grant, helps at-risk students learn classroom expectations so they can enter kindergarten with confidence.
Due to a lack of early learning investments, not all southwest Washington students have this opportunity. As a result, when the bell rings on the first day of kindergarten, the State Board of Education estimates that only 41% of students are adequately prepared. And this is not simply a parenting issue. Even Susan, a former teacher with a tight-knit family, found that coaching her own child raises challenges. So when she saw Alex blossom over just six weeks, she was in awe. By mid-summer, he was writing his name and excitedly identifying letters. Even more eye-opening was the realization that her son was becoming an independent learner.
Allison McGranahan, a teacher in Alex’s class, said programs like Ready, Set, Kindergarten! offer enormous potential for growth and long-term success. Children grow up in an environment of varied experiences and relationships, and science shows that these interactive influences shape the brain. With upwards of 90 percent of brain development occurring before age five, these early years are key to wiring kids for success.
Using letters and numbers, teachers like Allison encourage kids to ask questions, act appropriately and collaborate with classmates. By the end of the program, students develop social and emotional skills, a set of defined roles and relationships, and a newfound willingness to try.
And the learning goes both ways according to Karen Fox, a principal at Mill Plain Elementary in the Evergreen School District—another early learning grantee. Fox says the Jump Start program also introduces parents to what is expected at school. In addition, teachers learn specific student needs. So, instead of starting a new set of relationships on the first day of school, everyone arrives fully prepared to play their part.
However, the Community Foundation is looking far beyond the first day of kindergarten with its early learning grants. Successful communities strive to get things right the first time by collectively investing in future generations through efforts like the Early Learning Impact Fund at the Foundation. These strategies ensure that all children—especially those in poverty—have the opportunity to fully develop their skills, which eventually leads to economic development and responsible citizenship.
Still, most parents are like Susan Fronckowiak; they just want to help their children love school. Thankfully, the Community Foundation is working to determine which programs are most effective at sparking this passion for learning, so the region can benefit from more eager learners like Alex.