Dr. Nancy Kotowski, (now former) Monterey County Superintendent of Schools, and Caryn Lewis, Greenfield Union School District Assistant Superintendent of Education Services, discussed the progress and successes of the Bright Beginnings Collaborative Action Team (CAT) in Greenfield.
The Greenfield CAT has seen an increase in community engagement and participation over the years. It now has members from Bright Beginnings, First 5 Monterey County, United Way Monterey County, Greenfield Union School District, as well as local representatives from Action Council and the Central Coast Youth Sports Organization. “During our monthly meetings, we look for opportunities to maximize early childhood development within our community, while also encouraging active family and community engagement,” shared Lewis. “Through our collaborative partnerships, we are able to reach a greater number of families and increase support for early learning initiatives across Greenfield.”
The Greenfield CAT did just this — connect local agencies to families of young children. School district employees and other members of the CAT hosted the second annual Kinder Family Festival to ensure that young children have a successful transition into kindergarten school programs. During the four hour event, approximately 600 people attended and over 360 kindergarten registration packets were given to parents and families.
“Our hope was to open the door for meaningful parent engagement as the children in Greenfield transition into our local school system. We also wanted to provide parents with information about early learning programs across the community. Even if their child isn’t entering kindergarten this year; we wanted to make sure that families with children from birth to age five received vital early learning information. By reaching out to families with young children, we are building critical support networks and growing the capacity of our community to engage parents as critical partners in their child’s early academic success.”
The Festival also provided support to parents and guardians wanting to complete the kindergarten registration paperwork and learn more about the registration process. “For some, this step can be very challenging. Parents must complete a comprehensive enrollment packet, provide immunization records as well as other forms.” shared Lewis. “We set up multiple tables, full of community partners, to help parents work through the registration packets in English, Trique, and Spanish.” In addition, the Festival offered vision and hearing screenings and a variety of take-home tools to improve children’s early literacy and social-emotional skills.
“We learned from last year, that it’s important to show parents and families all of the different ways that our community can support them in their child’s earliest years. From take-home resources, health screenings, and transportation opportunities…we’re here to help your child succeed.”
Once the Festival came to a close, the CAT began analyzing the data that was collected as an initial screening to identify and track kindergarten readiness for the children of Greenfield. “We’re looking at where they are coming from…different preschool programs or TK programs, to better understand their needs as they enter their formal education training.” explained Lewis. “The more we understand the needs of our students before they arrive on their first day of kindergarten, the more successful they will be in their early education program.”
To further prepare Greenfield’s early learners, the CAT invited students who have yet to attend a preschool or TK program to attend a five-week Kindergarten Academy over summer. “This allows students, who have not yet had exposure to critical early learning opportunities, to attend a readiness ‘boot-camp’ to better prepare them for kindergarten success.” said Lewis. “Last year, we offered this summer program to 96 students. We’re planning to extend this opportunity and double the number of students we serve this coming summer!”
During the 2016 Kindergarten Academy, the CAT tracked each child’s success by conducting an initial screening and then a follow-up screening was completed approximately six to eight weeks after school had started. During the follow-up screening, they spoke with several teachers who shared that the children who attended the Academy were showing improvement compared to the students who did not attend. In 2017, through collaboration with preschool, TK, and kindergarten staff and teachers, the Greenfield CAT plans to implement a formal tracking system that can be used with greater effectiveness to assess student’s kinder-readiness and growth in school.
“It’s great that the CAT takes into consideration what previous early learning experiences each child has had before entering kindergarten. The Monterey County Head Start program is striving to accelerate the level of readiness of children for kindergarten. We are doing this by analyzing the children’s progress on a quarterly basis in each area of development. The goal is to prepare teachers and staff with the repertoire of strategies and activities for the next quarter that will accelerate the children’s growth and development in each area.” shared Dr. Kotowski.
In 2017, the Greenfield CAT worked to make sure that they were aligning priority goals with the right action items. “This is where our ongoing work with Bright Beginnings has allowed us to maximize stakeholder involvement with First 5, MCOE, and other local agencies.” shared Lewis. “Through our collaborative partnerships, we’re working to provide our students and families with equitable solutions – a chance to start kindergarten the right way, preventing the achievement gap and ensuring that all students get a strong start in their early years.”