Building a Foundation

by Shannon Smiles, Director – NHCS Early Childhood Education

By the time some children reach kindergarten, they are already far behind their peers in skills and measures of school readiness. These educational gaps tend to be much more difficult and costly to close as children advance through elementary, middle, and high school. This realization has led many states to try to get it right from the start by expanding their financial investments in Pre-Kindergarten services, with a goal to better prepare young children for school success. With public schools facing heightened accountability requirements, Pre-K has emerged as an important strategy to promote school readiness and close achievement gaps in elementary school and beyond.

Just​ ​as​ ​there​ ​are​ ​achievement​ ​gaps​ ​in​ ​school​ ​performance,​ ​there​ ​are​ ​school readiness​ ​gaps​ ​that​ ​separate​ ​disadvantaged​ ​children​ ​from​ ​their​ ​more​ ​affluent​ ​peers. There​ ​are​ ​only​ ​2000​ ​days​ ​from​ ​the​ ​time​ ​a​ ​​child​ ​is​ ​born​ ​to​ ​when​ ​that​ ​child​ ​begins kindergarten.​ ​​ ​The​ ​brain​ ​is​ ​the​ ​only​ ​organ​ ​that​ ​is​ ​not​ ​developed​ ​at​ ​birth; critical​ ​brain development​ ​happens​ ​in​ ​the​ ​first​ ​5​ ​years​ ​of​ ​life.​ ​ As​ ​early​ ​as​ ​18​ ​months,​ ​low-income​ ​children​ ​begin​ ​to​ ​fall​ ​behind​ ​in​ ​vocabulary development​ ​and​ ​other​ ​factors critical for school success, such as general health, social and emotional competency, and problem-solving skills.  By​ ​age​ ​5,​ ​a​ ​typical​ ​middle-class​ ​child​ ​recognizes​ ​22​ ​letters​ ​of​ ​the​ ​alphabet,​ ​compared​ ​to 9​ ​for​ ​a​ ​child​ ​from​ ​a​ ​low-income​ ​family.

The benefit-cost analysis of investments in early childhood range from ratios of 2.5 to 1 to possibly 13 to 1 through​ ​increased personal​ ​achievement​ ​and​ ​social​ ​productivity.  Every​ ​dollar​ ​invested​ ​in​ ​early​ ​education​ ​produces​ ​a​ ​10%​ ​return​ ​through​ ​increased personal​ ​achievement​ ​and​ ​social​ ​productivity.  It​ ​is​ ​not​ ​surprising then​ that​ ​North Carolina ​and​ ​New Hanover County  school leaders are​ passionate on​ ​expanding​ ​Pre-K​ ​as​ ​a​ ​way​ ​to ensure​ ​more​​ ​children​ ​are​ ​ready​ ​for​ ​kindergarten​ ​and​ ​the​ ​challenges​ ​beyond.

New​ ​Hanover​ ​County​ ​Schools​ ​is​ ​the​ ​grantee​ ​for​ ​the ​federally​ ​funded​ ​program,​ ​Head​ ​Start, and​ ​serves​ ​as​ ​the​ ​Contract​ ​Administrator​ ​for​ ​ ​NC Pre-K ​state​ ​funding.  NHCS ​provides​ ​services​ ​at​ ​7​ ​locations​ ​in which several​ ​classrooms​ ​are​ ​embedded​ ​in​ ​the elementary​ ​schools​ ​and​ has two ​Pre-K​ ​Centers – Howe Pre-K and D.B. Johnson Pre-K.  As contractor for the NC Pre-K Program, NHCS subcontracts with 9 private sites to provide high-quality Pre-K services to future NHCS kindergartners.  New Hanover County Schools serves a total of 857 children in public and private settings.

Under the leadership of Dr. Markley, Board of Education Members and County Officials, New Hanover County Schools has recently begun a ​partnership​ ​with​ ​our​ ​County ​to​ ​serve​ ​45​ ​additional​ ​3​ ​year​ ​olds​ at CRA​ ​@​ ​Mosley Pre-K​ ​Center.​  What is new is that the county is providing additional funding, over and above federal and state funding, for these classrooms.  These children are identified as being at high risk and have not been served previously outside the home.

This team effort gives us a chance to start early intervention at the age of 3. Typically, these young children would remain on a waitlist for the year and would not be served until they turned 4 years old.  New Hanover County becomes a leader in the state by approving this funding and pursuing this agenda of school readiness for this underserved population.

NHCS Early Childhood Education Program offers a high-quality early learning environment with a state approved curriculum, formative assessment, and vertical alignment so that we impact the gap of school readiness skills.  Our curriculum is aligned with the NC Foundations of Early Learning and Development, North Carolina’s Kindergarten Entry Assessment (KEA), and Common Core Standards.  Formative assessment implemented through the same technology platform as the KEA focuses on the whole child.  In addition to what the curriculum offers for social-emotional learning, we use Conscious Discipline and Second Step to help our students stay in their executive brain state-the optimal state for problem solving and learning.

Through ongoing professional development, teachers have learned about seven powers and seven skills of self regulation and communication skills that help them as teachers.  By implementing the powers and skills together, we learn to stay in control of ourselves and in charge of children in a manner that models the same skills we seek to teach, such as resolving conflicts, preventing bullying, and developing pro-social behaviors.

A huge shout out to all for helping us make it happen for young learners in New Hanover County Schools!

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