July 23, 2014

Elyria
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Elyria Schools looks to set up standard preschool curriculum

ELYRIA — If education is the building block of a successful life, Elyria Schools is working on a new program aimed at strengthening that very foundation.

The new collaborative called “Ready, Set, Go … to Kindergarten” is the district’s attempt at ensuring that every student enrolled in preschool in Elyria has the same basic education. It doesn’t matter if the place is a faith-based center or a private preschool, the goal is kindergarten readiness.

Inside the colorful classrooms of three Horizon Activities Centers in Elyria, getting 3- and 4-year-olds ready for the next step in their school life has long been important, but this is the first time a public school district has taken such a hands-on approach, said David Smith, executive director.

“There has always been this kind of disconnect between the schools and the community-based programs,” Smith said. “But this initiative will allow us to make sure our kids will feel very comfortable going into the public-school setting.”

About two years ago, district officials began examining the creation of a standardized curriculum for preschools. The goal was to develop a uniform approach to getting young students ready for kindergarten and beyond.

“If there is a silver bullet in education, it is getting kids ready for kindergarten,” said Ann Schloss, the district’s director of academic services. “Research tells us that students that are ready for kindergarten, they will have a more successful educational career.”

Some students start kindergarten as avid readers while others struggle to master the alphabet. Some have already spent two and three years in a structured preschool environment while others are just being introduced to school.

But Schloss said times have changed and solid preschool is more important than ever.

“The skills they are expected to know in kindergarten compared with what we were supposed to learn years ago are vastly different,” she said. “Everything is moved down in regards to standards.”

What was taught in kindergarten years ago is now covered in a typical preschool.

Last year, Ready, Set, Go was in the planning phases, but included three professional development workshops for preschool teachers hosted by Elyria Schools. A lesson in how to teach a core language arts and math concept was taught at each session, and more than 80 providers attended, which only showed the district they have an interested audience in preschool teachers.

This year, Ready, Set, Go has signed on 16 child-care centers with pre-kindergarten programs to participate in the collaborative.

“We are just trying to bridge that gap between pre-k and kindergarten,” Schloss said. “Once students come to us, we have a system in place where teachers know what is expected of their students each year as well as what students should have learned the previous year. But that same transition was missing from pre-k to kindergarten.”

Michele Henes, an associate professor of education and coordinator of the children’s learning program at Lorain County Community College, said the way Elyria Schools is embracing kindergarten readiness should be duplicated in the county and state.

Henes is also the co-chair of the REACHigher Council, which was started in 2007 to look at the entire spectrum of learning in Lorain County from preschool until the end of college.

“We need to be on the same page as educators — those in the birth-through-5 world with the k-through-12 world,” she said. “We need to make sure the child is successful and that starts with early education.”

Henes said parents who do not have their children in preschool should consider it the first step to kindergarten.

“Parents need to embrace that the birth-through-5 learning time is critical,” she said. “It should be a time of exploration, play and social skills, but a lot of learning should be going on. That’s the time when most of the skills of speech, prewriting and prereading are learned. In the right setting, we can still do that in a very non-threatening way for kids, in a play and exploration environment.”

Schloss said it will likely take at least three years to see sustainable change in the way prekindergarten is delivered in Elyria.

“But we know it will have a very positive impact on our kids,” she said.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.