Studies show that early childhood education is a key indicator for future success in school. This year, thanks to a $2.9 million grant, the Kansas City, Kan., Public Schools will nearly double its reach in this area.
KCKPS was one of nine school districts across the state to be identified to apply for an early childhood block grant from the Kansas Children’s Cabinet and Trust Fund. The grants are for the establishment and enhancement of early childhood services to at-risk children, from birth through age five. Word of the grant was received in late December, and in mid February, the district began opening new preschool programs to serve students.
The grant targets students in the Harmon and Wyandotte clusters. Titled Project SPARK (Successful Partnerships to Assure Readiness for Kindergarten), components of the grant project include:
• Establishing four new preschool sites to be managed by the district. They are at M.E. Pearson Elementary, Silver City Elementary, T.A. Edison Elementary and the Quindaro Community Center. Comprehensively, these sites can serve 158 students. These new classrooms will allow the district to serve three-year-olds who had previously been underserved.
• Collaborating with United Way and The Family Conservancy to provide services to children 0-5 in community-based learning environments in the Harmon and Wyandotte clusters. These partnerships will reach more than 300 children.
• Expanding the Parents as Teachers program to reach students up through age 5 (previously the program only served students up through age 3). The expected reach is approximately 80 more students.
• Hiring an additional Mentor Specialist for the Head Start program to expand reach in this area. This specialist will coach five classrooms of 20 students, reaching an estimated 100 students in all.
In all, the grant will allow the district to expand its early childhood programs to reach an estimated 630 additional students.
“Our goal is to have our students starting kindergarten ‘school ready,’” said Marylee Battaglia, preschool coordinator. “So providing programs that can help them to gain the skills they need, including the social emotional skills, is critical.”
Battaglia said early childhood programs teach children phonological awareness, print concepts, language skills and alphabet knowledge. They also help develop and refine motor and math skills, and give children exposure to classroom environments and socializing with others.
Identifying special needs and at-risk students is also critical during this time period so that they can be provided with the resources they need to learn effectively. To help in this area, the district is collaborating with the University of Kansas Medical Center to establish two school-based health clinics, one in the Harmon cluster and one in the Wyandotte cluster. These clinics will provide traditional health services like immunizations and well-child checks, but they also will refer families to the appropriate specialists who can assess their children’s needs. The clinics will be staffed by medical students and residents.
Since the district established its early childhood program in 1997, it has had a history of tremendous growth. In the year 2000, KCKPS was serving approximately 225 students. At the start of the 2012-2013 school year, it had grown to accommodate 570 at-risk students and 240 special education preschoolers. With the additional reach of 630 through this grant, more than 1,400 children will be impacted.
While the goal is provide services to every child 0-5 and their family, some children will still be missed. To try to reach those children who have had no early childhood experiences, the district is planning a two-week “kick-off for kindergarten” program. It will begin in late July and will be for incoming kindergartners who have had no formal preschool experience.
“We’re excited, and I hope our community is excited, about all of these new offerings,” Battaglia said. “We were very strategic in our planning. We want to provide as many options as possible, to reach as many children as possible during those early years, because we know how important it is to their futures.”
The grant will run through December 2013 with the option of a two-year renewal.
- Story from Kansas City, Kan., Public Schools