As one of the original organizers for the Bright Beginnings North Monterey County Collaborative Action Team (CAT), Director of Student and Family Services Noemy Loveless uses her deep understanding of community needs and passion for early childhood development to collaborate on several successful initiatives, including a Summer Bridge Academy.
In North Monterey County, like many communities across the state, there is a large percentage of children that are not enrolled in an early education program – such as transitional kindergarten (TK) or preschool – before entering kindergarten. Without high quality early learning experiences, children’s development can lag behind their peers, and they may be less ready to succeed in school. Exposing children to key elements of kindergarten, from self-regulation and socialization with other children, to a formal school setting and meeting early literacy goals, was critical for Loveless and her team. “A summer ‘bridge’ program supports their preparedness for their first day of school at kindergarten,” Loveless explained. “Only about 25-30% of children are served through TK or California State Preschool programs. We wanted to capture that audience of children who were missing out.”
Held over the course of five weeks from 8am to 12pm, staffed with both a TK certified teacher and one educator for additional support, the Summer Bridge Academy ran concurrently at a site where other summer school programs were operating. “This made it more convenient for families and easier to leverage support from other programs: services, such as transportation to the facility, as well as providing breakfast and lunch to the children while they were participating in the program,” said Loveless. It gave the CAT the opportunity to work district-wide with various programs that are offered to all students in the community.
Students in the program also had the opportunity to participate in United Way’s launch of ‘Stuff the Bus’, which happened at Castroville Elementary School in June. “Every summer, each participant is able to receive a backpack full of supplies,” Loveless added happily. Partnerships like these allowed the Summer Bridge Academy to be even more successful.
These “safety nets” can make the transition into kindergarten easier for children and their families, which is correlated with better child outcomes at the end of kindergarten. Noemy’s team utilized the Desired Results Developmental Profile to gain a more nuanced understanding of the effect of these programs on kindergarten readiness. After analyzing pre- and post-program data, Loveless is proud to report that “the data showed significant growth in social-emotional development from when the students began the program to the completion of the program.” The next step is comparing the 2017 Kindergarten Readiness Assessment (KRA) data that they’ve locally collected to these numbers to fine-tune their program and inform future programming, as well as continuing to seek funding for forthcoming summer services for children who do not participate in preschool, TK, or California State Preschool programs.
From these five weeks, the Summer Bridge Academy was also able to identify certain barriers that may have prevented students from enrolling. “We learned that living in a rural area may have made it harder for program participants, as transportation is often a barrier to our families sending their children to a program,” Loveless shared. This insight gave way to a larger conversation, including adjusting their operating hours. How can the Summer Bridge Academy be more conducive to supporting families? “That’s something we’ll be reflecting on, moving forward,” Loveless concluded.
The North Monterey County CAT is showing no signs of slowing as summer winds down and fall approaches. At their last North Monterey County Community Alliance meeting, the team shared their project charter update and began moving forward with a parent education component.
North Monterey County has the North Monterey County Community Alliance, a cradle to career effort that includes the Early Years CAT, whose work is centered around birth to third grade, a Middle Years team, which works with students from fourth to eighth grade, and the College to Career Team, which helps those from ninth grade to college/career, as well as adults.
Harnessing the power of collective impact to serve North Monterey County’s youngest will give the CAT the strong foundation they need for long-term success in college and their careers. “The opportunity to get feedback from others as we’re working through this process and focusing our long-term and short-term goals was invaluable,” shared Loveless. “It will undoubtedly help us in increasing school readiness in the areas of self-regulation and language literacy.”