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Carroll schools form partnerships to bridge education

In the 2015-2016 school year, less than half — 45 percent — of Maryland kindergartners came in ready for school.

Fifty-five percent of Carroll County kindergartners demonstrated readiness, a number that, while higher than the state average, still leaves nearly half of the new students unprepared to start formal education.

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With this information, Carroll County Public Schools are working to develop their own programs, and partner with community organizations to help young children prepare for a life of learning.

Major importance has been placed on early childhood education as more and more data proves correlation with early learning to later success. Kids who head to school at higher levels of readiness see a multitude of benefits, according to the Ready at Five organization.

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Children who enter ready are "healthier and are less likely to become involved with the criminal justice system and drop out of school," according to Ready at Five. "These children experience future academic success, attain higher levels of education and typically have higher earnings throughout their lives."

So in addition to standard full-day kindergarten, Carroll County offers prekindergarten to those who are income-eligible, said Annie Blonkowski, supervisor of Early Childhood Education.

Data from the Ready at Five program show the importance of offering services to those in low-income situations: In Carroll, 41 percent of kids in low-income households are ready for kindergarten, compared with 57 percent from mid- to high-income households.

The school system has also paired with the Judy Center Partnership a state-funded program that promotes readiness for kids from birth to age 5.

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"We have a lot going on," Blonkowski said. "In order to prepare children to become … productive citizens … we need to work with them while they're young."

These programs work to help kids become ready in multiple areas, from social to math to reading to motor skills, she said. They want kids to learn to problem solve and reason. And they want to do a lot of learning through play.

They work to help kids become comfortable and confident before they head to school, Blonkowski added.

"It's kind of like providing that clear pathway for them," she said.

And a big part of that comes through teamwork throughout the community.

The Judy Center Partnership works with agencies across the county, Sue Mitchell, of the Judy Center, said.

"The overall goal of the program is school readiness," she added.

The Judy Center works to be out in the community, and working not just with kids, but with parents, too. They offer PAT, or Parents as Teachers, where they do home visitations, Mitchell said.

This allows parents to better support their children and prepare them for school, and also allows those in the center to make sure everything is safe in the home.

But it's not just the work they do. The Judy Center partners with early learning centers throughout Carroll to help bridge the gap.

They look at the curriculum for other early childhood education services to help streamline the transition for kids as they move into the Carroll County school system. Prekindergarten is much more advanced than it was years ago, she added.

"We want to spread the word of getting your child ready before they actually start school," Mitchell said.

Celebree Learning Centers, an organization with locations throughout Maryland, is one of those groups that has partnered with the Judy Center. The center is working with helping Celebree become accredited, Mitchell said.

Lisa Henkel, chief operating officer for Celebree Learning Centers, takes their partnership with Carroll Schools seriously.

"We know now that the brain is doing a lot of development in those first five years," Henkel said.

It makes early education really important, she said — they want to help children be ready.

They work to get the kids in their programs into the local schools, and also have teachers meet the future students. Celebree works to track kids' progress so that when they move on to public schools, they can share that information with teachers, Henkel said.

"We're really trying to keep working hard together," Blonkowski said. "We can't do it alone. We really are trying to build a seamless transition between prekindergarten and kindergarten."

410-857-7862

twitter.com/EmilyChappell13

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