Preparing Kids for Kindergarten Works

Take notice, a movement is gaining momentum in our community. The movement is building a strong foundation for the future success of each child in Lane County, Oregon, particularly those at risk of falling behind their peers before they even reach kindergarten.

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Early Learning Hubs

As part of broader work across the state to improve educational outcomes, our local effort is guided by the Lane Early Learning Alliance, a group convened by the United Way of Lane County. The Early Learning Alliance is one of 14 regional “early learning hubs” in Oregon legislatively charged with ensuring that children enter kindergarten ready to learn, that families are stable and attached, and that services are aligned into an effective system for families with young children.

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 The Lane Early Learning Alliance has already advanced local early learning efforts by landing a multi-million dollar Social Innovation Fund grant. This project brings millions of dollars of federal money to Lane County to make the proven Kids in Transition to School (KITS) program available to serve more children.

Kids in Transition to School

KITS, a school readiness program developed at Eugene’s Oregon Social Learning Center, works to boost children’s literacy, self-regulation and social skills just before entering kindergarten and to provide support to parents as their children start school. The Lane Early Learning Alliance identified KITS as a key strategy to enhance school readiness, improve long-term educational outcomes, and help eliminate opportunity gaps.

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In 2010, United Way invested in a small grant to try the KITS Program in two elementary schools, one in Bethel and one in Springfield, Oregon. Research showed the program to have a positive effect on students. For example, among students who received the KITS program in the two schools, the number meeting the benchmark for understanding basic concepts of reading increased by 33 percent. The program has since grown to serve 11 elementary schools in six districts across the county.

Kids with Pre-Kindergarten are More Prepared

Rigorous data has already shown that children who participate in the KITS program enter kindergarten significantly more prepared, both academically and socially, than their peers. And the program helps connect families and schools to better meet students’ needs.

Iris_10_2012-093For example, parents who participate in KITS show stronger parenting skills over time, which leads to their being more involved in their children’s schools. KITS is exactly the type of vital early childhood program that can improve outcomes for individual students, creating a ripple effect throughout the community — more children and families deserve access to this program.

Through play groups and focused learning activities, KITS makes the process fun for pre-kindergartners. Meanwhile, parents share ideas and learn effective and easy ways to support and enhance their children’s growth and learning. Parents are children’s first, longest serving, and most important teachers. Achievements attained by the students during their time in KITS and later in kindergarten and beyond are maintained and extended through a supportive environment at home.

Investing in Kids’ Future

IRIS_Padres_Preparados-017I hope others share my excitement in United Way of Lane County’s recent announcement that it has received this federal grant from the Social Innovation Fund, a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service, to invest more than $2 million in our kids and Lane County’s future. The grant begins with a two-year commitment and an opportunity for additional funding for up to five years to improve kindergarten readiness.

IRIS-March_2015-27The SIF is a powerful approach to transforming lives and communities. It is designed to be a catalyst, mobilizing public and private resources to find and grow community solutions with evidence of results. As part of the SIF program, United Way of Lane County must match the federal funds dollar-for-dollar. Then the school and community organizations selected to receive grants to implement KITS will also match their awards dollar-for-dollar. In the next several months, United Way of Lane County will hold an open competition to select local organizations to receive subgrants of $100,000 or more. The chosen groups will learn how to implement the KITS program and expand its reach.

The SIF grant is exactly the right thing at the right time. After several years of bringing together public, nonprofit and private entities to fully develop and research a program that has shown it can better prepare children for kindergarten and improve their success in school and life, the KITS SIF grant will give us the boost needed to draw in more partners and scale up this proven model to provide access to hundreds more students and families in need.

For more information, call United Way of Lane County at 541-741-6000 or visit the KITS Social Innovation Fund.

This article was originally published in the Register Guard newspaper on Sept. 29, 2015.

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