Kindergarten Readiness in DeKalb County
In 2003, the DeKalb County Community Foundation began its CommunityWorks Initiative in DeKalb County. The Community Foundation’s board recognized the potential of a community foundation as a change agent and community leader. It was ready to use its convening and grantmaking resources to help improve DeKalb County’s quality of life. The Foundation set about getting input from throughout the County on the needs, resources, barriers, and opportunities related to early care and education, land use, and workforce development in DeKalb County.
In 2008 the first CommunityWorks Early Care and Education Initiative led the Community Foundation to address the quality, availability, and affordability of child care in DeKalb County while increasing the support of the business community. This led to a Child Care Summary, completed in 2011, and an impact plan that ended in 2013. Learn more about the Childcare Impact Plan Initiative in the section at the bottom of this web page.
Then in 2014, through a community-wide Advancing DeKalb County survey, the Community Foundation learned that youth and early education was a high priority to residents throughout DeKalb County. The Foundation decided to focus its resources to address kindergarten readiness in DeKalb County joining similarly focused and recognized national, state, and local initiatives. Learn more about the Kindergarten Readiness Initiative in the section below.
The Community Foundation's commitment and support to early care and education is made possible by 20 CommunityWorks funds, generating over $100,000 annually. Thank you to the generous donors who support these funds!
The DeKalb County Community Foundation recognizes the importance of supporting young children and their families across one of the most important transitions in life: from early childhood to kindergarten. Early childhood experiences play a significant role in a child’s development and the degree to which a child is ready for kindergarten.
Kindergarten readiness is defined as a student’s preparedness for school and life success. When schools, early childhood educators, community service providers, and policy makers work collaboratively with families as their child’s first teachers, kindergarten readiness is enhanced and inequities in early life experience are addressed. Readiness is measured by the extent to which students exhibit appropriate social and emotional development, positive approaches to learning, strong language and literacy skills, basic cognition and foundational skills, and healthy motor and physical development.
The kindergarten readiness initiative for DeKalb County is overseen by the Kindergarten Readiness Collaborative. The Collaborative is made up of 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.
Through the determination and hard work of the Collaborative, priorities were established, goals identified, and implementation plans put into action.
DeKalb County Kindergarten Readiness Study
The DeKalb County Kindergarten Readiness Study provides background information to launch and inform the discussion of how best DeKalb County may prepare our children for success in school and life. The 2017 study provides a baseline for what kindergarten readiness looks like in DeKalb County.
Kindergarten Readiness Toolkit Grants
Kindergarten Readiness Toolkit Grants support educators in the purchase of toolkits for pre-kindergarten age children around DeKalb County. By using the resources provided in the toolkits, parents and other family members can create fun learning experiences for their children and help prepare them for school. All school districts in DeKalb County are eligible to apply for a grant.
Basics DeKalb County
Basics DeKalb County is a community saturation program for DeKalb County, based on The Boston Basics. The Basics are a set of five evidence-based, nurturing practices that help all infants and toddlers thrive cognitively, socially and emotionally. The program is housed and coordinated by the DeKalb County Regional Office of Education.
The Community Foundation hired a new Community Engagement Director upon the retirement of Program Director Anita Zurbrugg. At this time, the convening of the Kindergarten Readiness Working Group was shifted to the DeKalb County Regional Office of Education (ROE).
The Kindergarten Readiness Working Group became the Kindergarten Readiness Collaborative. Each of the agencies represented in the collaborative continue to formulate how the Basics DeKalb County can be implemented in their plans and staff development training. Evaluation tools were collected and discussed to determine the most effective implementation strategy.
The ROE hired a Basics DeKalb County coordinator to oversee county-wide saturation efforts to ensure all communities are educated on the DeKalb County Basics and ways to implement them into daily life.
The ROE held a Basics DeKalb County ambassadors meeting. The meeting was designed to saturate the community and build awareness in various sectors across DeKalb County. The Kindergarten Readiness Toolkit Grant program undergoes changes to improve the process and efficiency.
The ROE hosted an Early Learning Summit which included early learning educators from the county. There was an update on the Kindergarten Readiness Collaborative and Kindergarten Readiness Toolkit Grant program. The Basics DeKalb County was officially launched. The Family Success Program at the ROE was introduced at this meeting.
Basics DeKalb County saturation efforts were focused on summer reading programs at libraries throughout DeKalb County. In partnership with the DeKalb Park District, United Way, and Target, DeKalb County’s first Born Learning Trail was built in Lion’s Park, DeKalb. The Basics DeKalb County will be the final sign on the trail as a way to increase awareness in the community.
The Community Foundation hosted a meeting of Kindergarten Readiness Toolkit grantees. The group exchanged ideas, strategy, and implementation practices regarding the toolkits.
The Community Foundation gave a grant to the DeKalb County Regional Office of Education (ROE) to provide coordination for early childhood related services and for priority issue areas:
- Establish and implement the process and framework for the transition from early learning to kindergarten, including family engagement
- Facilitate ongoing collaboration between early learning, pre-school, and kindergarten educators
- Provide professional development opportunities relevant to evidence-based curriculum development, instructional strategies, child development, or child wellness including trauma-informed practices and social emotional learning
- Determine and facilitate common assessment tools for kindergarten readiness, including consideration of using KIDS (Kindergarten Individual Development Survey)
The Kindergarten Readiness Toolkit Grant program was created. This new grant program supports educators in the purchase of toolkits for pre-kindergarten age children around DeKalb County. All school districts in DeKalb County are eligible to apply for a grant to support the development of their own toolkits.
The DeKalb County Health Department arranged for 210 free copies of the DVD Leap Frog Letter Factory for distribution to families visiting the Health Department in anticipation of their child attending kindergarten in the fall. A Preparing Your Child for Kindergarten insert was created to accompany the DVD. The goal was to encourage families to work with their children on critical skills for success in kindergarten.
June 19 – The ROE hosted The Basics presentation by Dr. Ron Ferguson, founder of The Boston Basics. Over 80 early childhood stakeholders (educators and youth service providers) attended with initial discussion of how a similar program might be implemented throughout DeKalb County.
June 26 – A third early learning summit was held at the ROE. Focus of the summit included Kindergarten Readiness Initiative updates, opportunities for early care educators to share programs and initiatives, and discussion on the adoption and promotion of The Basics in DeKalb County among attendees.
July 5 – The Kindergarten readiness Working Group (KRWG) unanimously decided to integrate the Basics DeKalb County into the DeKalb County Kindergarten Readiness Initiative.
July 26 – The KRCWG presented an update of the Kindergarten Readiness Initiative to the DeKalb County Community Foundation Board of Directors. Included within this initiative are plans to develop a Basics DeKalb County campaign to saturate the community with supporting our youngest members and their families throughout their earliest years. Board members expressed resounding support to move forward with the initiative.
The KRCWG proceeds with plans to secure funding support for Basics DeKalb County and determine the degree to which KIDS can be used as a baseline measurement for DeKalb County’s Kindergarten Readiness.
Trittenhaus Design in Sycamore was commissioned to create the Basics DeKalb County logo. New logo follows branding of The Boston Basics.
$100,000 in funding received from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation to create community saturation for the Basics DeKalb County. Funding provides an opportunity for a new full time Basics DeKalb County Coordinator position.
DeKalb County Health Department IPLAN and DeKalb County Health Needs Assessment incorporates Basics DeKalb County in their implementation plans and their health care professional development training.
A Defining Kindergarten Readiness Workshop was facilitated by Amy Jo Clemens of the NIU Center for P20 Engagement. 61 early care and kindergarten educators and other early learning professionals attended.
Value Statement: When schools, early childhood educators, families, community service providers, and policy makers work collaboratively and involve families as their child’s first teachers, child development is enhanced and inequities in early life experience are addressed so that all children have access to opportunities that promote success.
Kindergarten Readiness actions result in:
- Appropriate social and emotional development
- Positive approaches to learning
- Strong language and literacy
- Basic cognition and foundational skills
- Healthy motor and physical development
An online survey was created by the Kindergarten Readiness Working Group (KRWG) through NIU Center for Governmental Studies and disseminated to all early learning educators and care givers in DeKalb County.
The very first Early Learning Summit was held at the DeKalb County Regional Office of Education (ROE). Approximately 26 early care and kindergarten educators attended. Attendees shared programs and projects of interest and extended discussion from the Defining Kindergarten Readiness Workshop.
Working with results from the December 2016 survey, the NIU Center for Governmental Studies and the NIU Center for P20 Engagement created the DeKalb County Kindergarten Readiness Study. The study provided a baseline to help launch the initiative.
The second Early Learning Summit was held at the ROE. During this summit, the Kindergarten Readiness Study and survey findings were presented. Attendees signed on to work in areas of interest with organizational “backbones” identified to coordinate and lead each issue area:
- Common Standards and Assessment for Kindergarten Readiness across DeKalb County
- Pre-K to Kindergarten Transition
- Pre-K and Kindergarten Ongoing Collaboration
- Kindergarten Readiness Toolkits (individual school districts, county wide and early child age)
- Family Engagement
- Home Visiting – Comprehensive and coordinated intake coordinated with families
- Comprehensive Pre-K screening, including Trauma Screening by age 3
KRCWG members attended the Mastering KIDS Summit in Chicago – Every Illinois Child Ready for Kindergarten, receiving an update of how KIDS was being implemented in Illinois and learning about The Boston Basics program.
The first Childhood Trauma meeting was held, coordinated by the DeKalb County Mental Health Board and Juvenile Justice Council. Screening children by the age of three was the priority area identified.
The Kindergarten Readiness Working Group (KRCWG) was formed. The KRCWG was composed of Community Foundation staff and board members, early care and kindergarten educators, and professionals working with youth. The purpose of the KRCWG was to develop and guide a county-wide Kindergarten Readiness initiative based upon the collective impact model.
The KRCWG contracted with the NIU Center for Governmental Studies and the NIU Center for P20 Engagement to conduct a background assessment of kindergarten readiness in DeKalb County, including the following research questions:
- What is kindergarten readiness and why does it matter?
- How ready are DeKalb County’s kindergartners?
- What is the existing DeKalb County system for preparing our children for kindergarten?
- As a county, what strategies should we pursue and prioritize to maintain or improve our children’s Kindergarten Readiness
Working with the results of this assessment, NIU Center for Governmental Studies went on to create the DeKalb County Kindergarten Readiness Study, released in August 2017.
Through a community wide Advancing DeKalb County survey, the Community Foundation learned that youth and early education was a high priority to residents in each of the communities throughout DeKalb County.
Along with this information, the supporting children and their families in the youngest years across the transition from birth to kindergarten is one of the best investments the community foundation could extend to communities throughout the county. High quality early childhood care and education has been well-documented and researched as having a positive educational impact, improving health and welfare, increasing lifetime earnings, enhancing societal contributions, and providing a significant return on dollars invested. Likewise, the negative impact of poverty and trauma on early childhood indicators such as mother and child health, mental health, and development are equally well-documented.
The Community Foundation decided to focus its resources to address kindergarten readiness in DeKalb County joining similarly focused and recognized national, state, and local initiatives.
Childcare Impact Plan Initiative
The first CommunityWorks Early Care and Education Initiative Impact Plan expired in 2013 although its impact significantly remains. Its goal was to increase the quality, availability, and affordability of child care in DeKalb County while increasing the support of the business community.
QRS and the Child Care Summary
Early in this process, the Community Foundation partnered with 4-C (Community Coordinated Child Care) to implement the Quality Counts: Quality Rating System (QRS). The QRS assists Illinois child care programs in providing quality care for children and their families.
After the initial results from the QRS, the DeKalb County Community Foundation and the Community Foundation for McHenry County partnered with 4-C to hire a Quality Rating Systems specialist to work with local child care providers to enhance quality and achieve star ratings.
Grants issued in 2008-2012 enabled child care programs to enhance the care they provide while at the same time positioning programs to receive additional state funding to further enhance their programs.
Between 2010 and 2012, over $1 million was received by programs in DeKalb County from leveraging Community Foundation funding. All eligible nonprofit centers in DeKalb County achieved star ratings and DeKalb County is home to two of the six Star 4 rated child care centers in Illinois.
A $9,550 grant from the DeKalb County Community Foundation enabled 4-C (Community Coordinated Child Care) to meet the increased need of consultation and training of DeKalb County’s nonprofit child care centers in preparation for the Illinois Quality Rating and Improvement System (CRIS). Going forward, 4-C has been able to sustain the specialist position without need for Community Foundation support.
In partnership with 4-C (Community Coordinated Child Care), the DeKalb County Community Foundation continued to fund the Quality Rating System (QRS) specialist position. The QRS position worked with eligible child care programs to assist in preparation for improved Quality Rating System Star ratings.
- A second child care center in DeKalb County achieved a Star 4 QRS rating. Achieving two of the four Star 4 rated child care centers in the state of Illinois.
- Approximately 647 children benefited from increased quality of care by attending a QRS Star rated child care center.
- DeKalb County centers received an additional $255,622 in revenue in 2011 as a result of their star rating.
By the end of 2010, seven child care centers in DeKalb County received either a Star 2 or Star 3 rating with the support of Quality Rating System (QRS) specialist position. As of March 2011, DeKalb County centers received an additional $481,478 in revenue as a result of their Star rating.
When compared to the original investment from CommunityWorks support, there was an approximate return of $5.22 on every $1 spent. Over 5 times the original investment!
$10,000 in Quality Enhancement Grants were awarded to five child care centers to increase preparedness for star rating and/or accreditation.
- NIU Campus Child Care - $2,498
- Children’s Learning Center - $2,374
- The Growing Place - $2,443
- NIU FCNS Child Development Lab - $294
- Kishwaukee College Early Childhood Center - $2,391
Approximately 695 children benefited from increased quality of care by attending a QRS Star rated child care center.
The DeKalb County Community Foundation and the Community Foundation of McHenry County continued their partnership to fund the 4-C (Community Coordinated Child Care) Quality Rating System (QRS) specialist position.
- By the end of 2009, seven child care centers received either a Star 2 or Star 3 rating, one center continues to work actively toward receiving a Star rating, and $182,239 in additional revenue was received by centers from the state of Illinois as a result of their Star rating.
- $10,000 in Quality Enhancement Grants was awarded to six child care centers to increase preparedness for star rating and/or accreditation.
- In June, 4-C co-hosted a business round table with DeKalb County Economic Development Corporation; “A Look at Quality Child Care and its Linkage to Economic Development”.