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Impacting early childhood development
As part of a grant, Crooked River and Ochoco Elementary schools are part of a focus on improving early learning and school readiness
In foreground is Esther Lopez, and sitting behind her is Hunter Friesen. Both students are in Jenny Fehrenbacher’s kindergarten class at Ochoco Elementary School. They are working on a reading exercise during class on Wednesday.
January 10, 2013
The correlation of poverty and its impact on academics is being studied on behalf of an increasingly younger age, even as early as birth.
As children come into kindergarten, many are not ready to learn, and poverty can play a large role in vocabulary and word usage by this age. In Crook County, data collected on incoming kindergarten students indicated that Crooked River Elementary students entered with two students out of 42 who knew all 26 letters of the alphabet. Cecil Sly had 10 students out of 59 who knew all 26 letters, and Ochoco had seven out of 54 students.
The U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced early in December 2012 that Oregon was the recipient of a federal “Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge,” grant. The state will receive $20 million over four years to strengthen the state’s early childhood system and ensure that Oregon children reach school ready to learn and succeed. In turn, the state recipients involved 16 pilot schools, including Crooked River Elementary.
Principal of Crooked River Elementary Cheri Rasmussen said that one of their kindergarten instructors, Karen Bryant, will be conducting academic assessments with her students, and the results will be evaluated by Portland State University.
“They will see if they can make a correlation between poverty and where (environmentally) students are raised, and they are hoping to have an impact on early childhood development,” said Rasmussen.”
She noted that children in Crook County are not coming into kindergarten as prepared as they should be.
The grant follows a state plan led by Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber to redefine the beginning of a child’s education as starting at birth. This vision for the state’s future is changing not only the way the Department of Education and its partners do business, but how families expect and experience education opportunities from birth to college and beyond. In March 2012, the Oregon Legislature passed House Bill 4165, which established the Early Learning Council, which is responsible for organizing policies, administration, and planning for commissions and agencies that govern early childhood programs.
“This is a welcome endorsement of Oregon’s focus on improving early learning and school readiness,” said Kitzhaber. “Success in schools starts long before school. This federal investment in our efforts will help to improve results for children and families and contributes to our efforts to transform Oregon education at all levels.”
Another initiative of the grant includes establishing a Tiered Quality Rating and Improvement System (TQRIS) for early care providers (includes childcare, preschool, and early childhood programs) in the regions that surround the grant recipients. A TQRIS system is used to assess, improve, and communicate the level of quality of such a program, using a set of progressively higher program standards. Parents can then choose a program based on a standardized quality rating. According to Patty Wilson, program manager for NeighborImpact Child Care Resources, they are hoping for a total of 60 participants for this program, and they will conduct meetings monthly.
Ochoco Elementary Principal Dave Robinson is working with his staff as part of this process. He said that the TQRIS process will help coordinate the planning phase between the pre-schools, day care providers, kindergarten teachers, and administrators, as well as the County Health staff. He added that there are actually two grants that are working together towards a common goal — pre-kindergarten readiness skills. Oregon Community Foundation is also offering up to 10, $5,000 planning grants to districts with elementary schools, which includes Ochoco Elementary.
“It will really bring people together in the initial phases, to help guide our planning,” commented Robinson. “I am really impressed with all the excitement of all the participants,” he added.