Where to Begin (Story #2 of 5) – Kindergarten Readiness Series
For any project to be successful, it is imperative to know where to begin by identifying the base line and exploring what improvement looks like. How can one claim success if they don’t know where the starting point is?
When the DeKalb County Community Foundation recognized the need to focus resources and create an initiative to address kindergarten readiness in DeKalb County, they reached out to potential partners in the area to determine if there was interest in forming a committee to address these needs. Soon the Kindergarten Readiness Collaborative was formed by representatives from the DeKalb County Community Foundation, the Trauma-Informed Committee, Community Coordinated Child Care (4-C), DeKalb County Regional Office of Education, DeKalb County Health Department, DeKalb County Community Mental Health Board, and local educators.
The Collaborative decided an initial study to gauge the county’s current level of readiness was the best place to begin. In 2016, the NIU Center for Governmental Studies and the NIU Center for P20 Engagement were contracted to conduct a background assessment of kindergarten readiness in DeKalb County. The study would address questions such as why does kindergarten readiness matter, what factors influence readiness, are DeKalb County’s children ready for kindergarten, and what can be done to improve these metrics?
First, the researchers reviewed studies previously conducted by organizations like United Way and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). These respected institutions found that early childhood experiences play a significant role in a child’s development. Children from disadvantaged homes often struggle to adapt to kindergarten and encounter challenges that persist throughout their education and into their adult lives.
Research has shown that high quality early childhood education not only has a positive impact on a child’s academics, but it also improves health and welfare, increases earning potential, enhances social contributions, and provides a significant return on the money invested. Conversely, poverty and trauma can lead to such negative outcomes as dropping out of school, teen pregnancy, placement in special education programs, never attending college, and higher rates of criminal arrests.
Once the initial literature review was concluded, the research team held a summit on readiness with kindergarten teachers and early childhood educators from across the county. Together, attendees helped identify key indicators of kindergarten readiness.
Next, an online survey collected information from across the county’s education community. This included teachers, district administrators, early care professionals. and program directors. The most common requests from these respondents was the need to inform, educate, prepare, and support parents and guardians. Another common request was the need for collaboration between school districts and early childhood programs.
Researchers also reviewed applicable DeKalb County data to help understand the demographics of the community. Data points such as population, number of children five years old and under, children living in poverty, health insurance, single parent homes, rate of homelessness, and the number of grandparents raising grandchildren.
Sadly enough, DeKalb County has seen more than twice as many kindergarten and preschool students identified as homeless over the past several years. In general, the data showed children five and under in this area are living in poorer households with more single parents and/or grandparents responsible for them.
From there the data from the summit, surveys, and county records was collected and reviewed. The researchers concluded the children in DeKalb County that are in this age category are living with increasingly adverse experiences including larger numbers of children living in poverty and homelessness, fewer children with health insurance, less capacity of child care in early care and education programs, and considerable mobility among families, all of which have been identified as negatively impacting kindergarten readiness and success in life.
The complete report was compiled into the DeKalb County Kindergarten Readiness Study. The findings will help to guide and inform the county’s future discussions of how to best prepare children for success in school and life. To learn more about the steps taken after the study, read story #3 in the Kindergarten Readiness Series.
The Community Foundation’s commitment and support to early care and education is made possible by 20 CommunityWorks Funds, generating over $100,000 in grant resources annually. These Funds support three identified interest areas; early care and education, land use, and workforce development.
If kindergarten readiness work is of interest to you or you wish to provide support for ongoing efforts, please contact Teri Spartz, Community Foundation Community Engagement Director, at 815-748-5383 or email@example.com.
We hope you enjoy this 5-part kindergarten readiness story series detailing the important work of addressing kindergarten readiness in DeKalb County. Story #1 provides a brief overview of the planning efforts, story #2 dives deeper into the findings of the DeKalb County Readiness Study, story #3 details the Kindergarten Readiness Toolkits Grants, story #4 brings awareness to the Basics DeKalb County Program, and story #5 takes a behind the scenes look at the additional workings of the Kindergarten Readiness Collaborative.