We build big programs to help people, but sometimes we overlook the simple part of extending a personal invitation to take part. But that piece is essential in building relationships necessary to really make a difference.
Early childhood education is something public officials on all sides are supporting. It is simply logical that when children are ready for K-12, they will more likely graduate prepared.
JCPS has been increasing its pre-kindergarten program, and proved this summer that face-to-face connections with families make the difference in participation.
McFerran Elementary had a number of slots for its pre-kindergarten program unfilled. The teachers there mobilized with the help of community members to go door-to-door providing information about the program and how to sign up.
“To reach the kids we want to reach you have to go to them,” Carol Haddad, former school board member and long-time early education advocate, says. It’s a simple conversation, she adds. “You just need to say, ‘this will help your child.’”
At the end of this drive, almost all 87 seats were filled reported The Courier-Journal.
The neighborhood canvassing effort was supported by Metro United Way, which is a key partner in the community-wide effort to increase participation in early education, and to improve the quality of all the childcare programs out there, from day care centers to home-based care to school settings.
The public school system has always had a goal of serving everyone – no matter the barriers to learning. The early childhood program is no different. JCPS offers full- and half-day programs to about 4,400 students, up from about 3,700 last year, including those with special needs. The Board just voted to fund this effort at $6.1 million this school year, with a projection of $7.2 million next year. On top of that, the school system sets aside $10.3 million in federal funding for its at-risk preschool program.
Home Visits a National Trend
This emphasis on home visits is trending across the country. The federal government is funding efforts to bring maternity and childcare assistance to the homes of families who need it, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is staking his public education success on inviting parents to be involved in their schools.
The NYC system is spending $106 million over two years for a community schools effort, including visiting the homes of parents in the 62 lowest performing schools and inviting them to be involved.
Carmen Fariña, the public schools chancellor said, “Bringing families into their child’s education is essential. Study after study shows that family engagement improved student performance and attendance.”
An article about this effort in The New York Times says the Mayor is trying this approach first, and deemphasizing the punitive environment often pervading schools with high needs.
Remember to Listen, Too
Listening, of course, has to be a big part of the school-parent connection. One of the NYC parents responded to an invitation to “sit at the table” where decisions would be made about the school by saying “I would definitely sit. The problem is if they would listen.”
My Mom was among the first Head Start teachers in the 1960s. She was an experienced, certified educator who volunteered to get the program started. She visited every child’s home. Many of the parents were apprehensive about what it all meant and how to help their child. She listened and always welcomed them in the classroom. She knew what happened at home made a difference at school.
It’s important to make these visits with parents, including personal, face-to-face, invitations to enroll their children early, and stay involved in their education. I know that many principals and teachers here have been doing this for a long time.
JCPS is on the right track by connecting with families early, and with continued community support, their children will get the extra help they need to be ready to learn.
It’s good to have a great idea. The real trick is making it work. Home visits are helping early childhood education work.