Pre-K Advocacy Urgently Needed
By Melissa Orlowski
This year I’m working as a para-professional teacher (until I take all my exams). And I am leading a kindergarten class which allows me to assess the preparedness of the children who had pre-k against those that didn’t. It’s not mandatory; pre-k that is.
When I was starting primary school in Massachusetts twenty years ago, even kindergarten wasn’t mandatory. I went right into first grade. I don’t remember it much, but my mum says I struggled to keep up, through third grade. 43% of students aren’t reading up to grade level by 3rd grade throughout Massachusetts.*
She would have put me in kindergarten and pre-k if they were available then. She and my Dad worked and it would have taken some of the burden of childcare away, and likely made me a better student then. But it wasn’t readily available. So they avoided paying upwards of $8k* per year on childcare by plopping me and my younger sister with our grandmother who luckily worked nights so she could care for us until my parents got home. It was great fun, but Bay, my grandmother’s nickname, spoke Spanish before English, and her reading skills were just okay. Funny I look back now and remember my father’s sister, my aunt urging us to learn Spanish; it would come naturally at that young age, but it wasn’t done then. Even my mother and her siblings don’t speak Spanish. It was always English in the house. Always. Too bad, my high school Spanish is lousy. Live and learn, young or old.
Now in my experience, kindergarten students are so different at the beginning of the year than at the end of the year.
The students are 5 years old when they enter in September. They have basic skills like being able to identify letters of the alphabet, identify numbers zero to 9 and being able to put each into their proper chronological order. They are able to follow directions given in small increments, one at a time, in order to complete whole tasks. Most students also come to kindergarten generally able to write their own first names and in some cases their last names as well.
Most students come to kindergarten with this preparation. But some students come completely unprepared. Having been to pre-k makes up a lot of that difference. And their backgrounds, particularly parental involvement, make up the rest. But wherever they are in the curve of preparedness, they are the cutest and most eager to learn.
It is easy to see in the beginning that some will be more creative and others more analytical. Math is also an important big subject mastered in kindergarten, including hands on lessons identifying shapes, patterns, adding and subtracting and length. Some will turn out to be leaders and others the workers that make the world function. But no matter, no 4-5 year old enters school as a future criminal.*
Parents that read regularly to their kids, help them succeed. And those parents that pony up between an “affordable” $7k and $17k* for a year of 5 day/week pre-k are the most prepared. But that makes classes difficult since I can’t move as fast through material as those students would like. I have to make sure the least prepared student is brought along as quickly as possible. And repetition is good for the kids a little ahead as it reinforces what they know. They will either remember what they are interested in or what is repeated to them time and time again.
Kindergarten students accomplish and master a great deal of skills throughout a quick ten month period and their transformation to first grade readiness is amazing.
Towards the end of the year we have also pushed for small advances like learning how to tie shoes and being able to zip your own coat or backpack. Socially students have also gained many problem solving skills. Instead of having to run to an adult for help, they now work out a problem with another student by themselves. They have gained a sense of right and wrong, learned social cues and negotiation skills to find common ground with their peers. At this point in the year students can follow multi step problems, and have learned a degree of independence.
For example, they have mastered the concept of when its time to leave school; there is the process of putting books and toys away on shelves, putting papers and even homework into their backpacks and getting ready to go home. This has now become routine and this skill can be used when working in other areas, especially at home. If we remember our John Locke, school is a key asset in the socialization of children as vital and contributing members of society.*
These little citizens are the world’s most precious asset and we should do everything to ensure they have all the tools, starting with universal preschool, which will help them succeed.
Please join other Promise the Children pre-k advocates by signing up for our action alerts at https://www.promisethechildren.org/about/.
- For an example of “affordable” pre-k programs around Boston see the following link: http://boston.cbslocal.com/top-lists/bostons-best-and-most-affordable-preschools/
- For a look at childcare costs across the country, check out: https://www.bostonglobe.com/2014/07/02/map-the-average-cost-for-child-care-state/LN65rSHXKNjr4eypyxT0WM/story.html
- For a discussion of universal pre-k in Massachusetts, see: below:http://www.bostonherald.com/news/local_coverage/2016/06/plan_calls_for_universal_pre_k_in_bostonhttps:/www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/editorials/2015/02/05/universal-pre-massachusetts-let-start-conversation/Hie9fYfpeZ0CcGrdpgOAUM/story.html
- To read a NIEER opinion piece about pre-k as a deterrent to future crime, go to: http://nieer.org/news-events/early-education-news/opinion-high-quality-pre-k-programs-best-deterrent-crime
- A chapter on John Locke and Socialization can be found at:http://chapter5sociologykcesnik.weebly.com/lockes-theory.html