Guest Opinions

In Focus: Help get our youngsters off to good start

Children do not have to start school behind! Public school teachers do a fantastic job of ensuring children make a year’s growth in a year’s time. However, kids entering kindergarten are performing somewhere between three and eight years old on academic tasks. Kids who start school behind tend to stay behind whereas kids who start ready tend to perform well in school over time. One of the smartest investments a community can make is to address skill gaps in children prior to when they start school. There are several things communities can do to provide learning opportunities for learning before kindergarten entry. The issue of readiness is critical to ensuring children are ready to learn at higher levels than ever before. Labor forecasts suggest that by 2018, approximately seven in 10 jobs in our country will require some level of post-high school education. Fortunately, the school districts in the Tri-Cities have a can-do spirit when it comes to tackling this issue. Over the past several years, all three districts have provided varying levels of partnership with the Mid-Columbia Reading Foundation. The foundation’s READY for Kindergarten is slated to be offered in a variety of locations in the Mid-Columbia this school year. When Richland School District (RSD) began collecting data in earnest on the issue in 2007-08, it found the majority of children within its bounds were entering kindergarten with less than optimal reading skills.In response, the RSD sought partnerships with Benton-Franklin Head Start, wrote grants to add the state’s Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) and wisely invested federal funds to ensure more children had access to high-quality preschool programs. These partnerships and investments paid dividends and as of last school year, the district saw almost 60 percent of its kindergarten students ready for school. Still, 60 percent is a long-way from the ideal and in the past year, RSD initiated a comprehensive approach designed to build community partnerships to improve the readiness outcomes for its children. The initiative has produced some initially optimistic results including a partnership with the early care providers within its boundary and a group of committed community members dedicated to growing and sustaining this important work. The initiative aims to continue to build partnerships and bring significant community attention to this critical issue. We know so much can be done to ensure our kids are ready for kindergarten. We believe with continued collaboration within the faith-based, business and medical communities, RSD, Richland early care providers, and most importantly parents, can have a positive measurable impact on school readiness. Children do not have to start behind! For more information on this work and how you specifically can help, please contact Nicole Blake, coordinator of Early Childhood Education, RSD, at nicole.blake@rsd.edu or check out the website at partnersforearlylearning.org.w Erich Bolz is an assistant superintendent in the Richland School District and a passionate advocate to ensure all children are ready for school.

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