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Working Together for the Children of DeKalb County (Story #5 of 5) – Kindergarten Readiness Series

“What is our responsibility to help prepare our children for their future?” This is a question the DeKalb County Regional Office of Education (ROE) thinks about frequently.

The DeKalb County ROE is part of the Kindergarten Readiness Collaborative of DeKalb County. Under the leadership of Amanda Christensen, Regional Superintendent of DeKalb County Schools, the ROE has been tasked with addressing some of the goals set forth by the Collaborative to work towards kindergarten readiness in DeKalb County.


The Early Learning Team

DeKalb County Community Foundation, CommunityWorks Funds, Kindergarten Readiness

February 2018 – A grant from the Community Foundation provides funding to the DeKalb County Regional Office of Education (ROE) for coordination of the priority issue areas and early childhood related services related to kindergarten readiness.

The ROE began its work by organizing an Early Learning Team to create a plan to help young children transition into kindergarten. The plan emphasized family engagement in the role of children’s early learning. This led to inclusion of approaches set forth by the B3 Continuity Project, a State of Illinois initiative that strives to align the education system from birth-to-third grade.

Part of the Early Learning Team’s plan was to conduct a community assessment. With the aid of funding from the DeKalb County Community Foundation, the ROE was able to conduct the assessment with one DeKalb County school district. Their in-depth analysis identified gaps in the kindergarten transition process, which will aid in an eventual development of an action plan to address those gaps. In the future, the assessment will be used as a tool throughout the county to determine the effectiveness of kindergarten readiness efforts.


KIDS Data for DeKalb County

One of the biggest tasks the ROE has undertaken is helping the community understand how important their role is in preparing children for the future. The ROE team regularly presents to various forums and groups around the county to stress the importance of community alignment to aid in the kindergarten to third grade transition. An important part of their presentation explains the data and findings from the Kindergarten Individual Development Survey (KIDS).

The KIDS administration is mandated by the State of Illinois. Kindergarten teachers are required to administer the evaluation to their students on the 40th day of class during the school year. The collected data is anonymous and intended to be an observational tool for teachers, administrators, families, and policymakers to better understand the developmental readiness of children entering kindergarten. ​2017 was the first year that all schools in DeKalb County submitted data.

DeKalb County Community Foundation, CommunityWorks Funds, Kindergarten Readiness

January 2020 – Representatives from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation co-presented with the DeKalb County ROE at the Kindergarten Readiness Forum.

Results from the most recent KIDS data shows kindergarten readiness of children in three developmental areas. From this data, only 33% of children are ready for Math, 46% are ready for Language and Literacy, and 53% of children show Social and Emotional Development. To take the data a little further, only 26% demonstrated readiness in all three developmental areas.

“The KIDS data provides a clearer picture of what the community is doing to help our kids and shows where there are gaps,” said Amanda Christensen. “It allows our schools and educators to pinpoint the areas of focus for our students to achieve kindergarten readiness.”

Professional development for early learning professionals is another goal the ROE is working to address. Traditionally this type of development opportunity is primarily made available for elementary school teachers. The ROE is organizing sessions that will gather preschool, pre-K, and elementary educators to further educate and train together. These sessions will allow for collaboration and idea sharing to help make the transition from preschool to kindergarten seamless for young learners.

Going forward, the DeKalb County ROE continues to devote time and attention to addressing these goals. They understand that the success of these goals create long lasting impact for the children of DeKalb County.


Addressing Childhood Trauma

DeKalb County Community Foundation, CommunityWorks Funds, Kindergarten Readiness

January 2020 – The presentation on the KIDS data for DeKalb County was of great interest and attracted a large audience at the Kindergarten Readiness Forum.

Along with the goals the ROE is working to address, the Collaborative understands there are many factors that contribute to a child’s readiness for school. One of these contributing factors is childhood trauma. So how DeKalb County can better address this problem in youth? According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration:

The impact of child traumatic stress can last well beyond childhood. In fact, research shows that child trauma survivors are more likely to have:

  • Learning problems, including lower grades and more suspensions and expulsions
  • Increased use of health services, including mental health services
  • Increased involvement with the child welfare and juvenile justice systems
  • Long term health problems, such as diabetes and heart disease

Trauma is a risk factor for nearly all behavioral health and substance use disorders.

One of the first steps the Collaborative took towards addressing trauma was to create a subcommittee for trauma assessment in children birth to five years old. Joining the subcommittee as a co-chair was Lisa Gonzalez, Public Health Administrator for the DeKalb County Health Department. Since joining the Collaborative in 2017, the Health Department has been instrumental in initiatives associated with trauma screening for children in the area.

DeKalb County Community Foundation, CommunityWorks Funds, Kindergarten Readiness

January 2020 – Lisa Gonzalez (center), Public Health Administrator for the DeKalb County Health Department, and her team continue to be instrumental in initiatives associated with trauma screening for children in the area.

Under Gonzalez’s lead, the Health Department staff completed training in order to become a trauma-informed organization. Entities that are trauma-informed receive instruction on how to identify the signs of trauma and how to compassionately consult victims and refer them to available resources.

The Health Department also assisted with home intake meetings and family case management. Families that participate in these visits have been identified through other social services and voluntarily opt for the consultations. The benefit of such interventions is to provide guidance and education about social services that are available to DeKalb County families.

The subcommittee along with the Collaborative is looking to address other areas in DeKalb County. “For future initiatives we would like to do more with pre-k screenings and streamline social service processes for families to make it easier for them to navigate and find the help they need,” said Lisa Gonzalez.

There are many moving pieces in the Kindergarten Readiness Collaborative of DeKalb County, but they are all working towards the same goal. Their goal is to make sure that every child in the county receives quality early childhood education. With the help and leadership of the Collaborative partner organizations and funders, DeKalb County and its residents will certainly benefit from their efforts.


A Commitment to Early Care and Education

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.

Learn even more about the Kindergarten Readiness Initiative >

If kindergarten readiness work is of interest to you or you wish to provide support for ongoing efforts, please contact Teri Spartz at 815-748-5383 or t.spartz@dekalbccf.org.

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 Kindergarten Readiness Collaborative.

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