Early learning initiatives are making an impact
Early learning initiatives are making an impact
Posted on 09/05/2019
Early learning initiatives are making an impact

After nearly 20 years teaching fourth grade in the Puyallup School District, Maplewood Elementary teacher Hope Ernst noticed something different about her students this year. For the first time, every student in her class knew how to read when they entered fourth grade.

“This is the first year that I’ve really noticed – WOW – they could ALL read, which is awesome,” says Ernst.

Last year’s fourth graders are the first districtwide class of students to attend full-day kindergarten. It is one of several early learning initiatives Puyallup has implemented in recent years to positively impact the growth of the whole child, and to close the achievement gap that exists for children entering kindergarten.

·         Full-day kindergarten began in the 2013-14 school year at Firgrove, Spinning, and Stewart elementary schools. In 2014-15 Puyallup went to full-day kindergarten districtwide.

DIBELS Chart
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·         Students have been immersed in the Common Core State Standards Initiative. The Common Core is a set of high-quality academic standards in mathematics and English language arts/literacy. These learning goals outline what a student should know and be able to do at the end of each grade.

·         Response To Intervention practices provide targeted learning in small group settings. Students are screened in reading and math to measure progress in meeting specific Essential Standards. Assessment tests are administered throughout the school year. The information is used to assess students' academic needs and intervene with targeted instruction.

·         The Learning Assistant Program has a certificated teacher and a paraeducator in every elementary school in the district to provide small group intervention for students who qualify. Students are served in small, flexible groups, focusing on supplemental interventions to accelerate their learning.

·         Title I is a federally funded program which provides financial assistance to schools with higher percentages of children from low-income families to help ensure that all children meet challenging state academic standards.

·         Second Step is a curriculum which promotes the social emotional development, safety, and well-being of children. Social emotional learning helps students understand emotions and how to deal with them, and to recognize other’s emotions and perspective which helps build empathy and compassion. It teaches students how to stop, take a breath, and think about situations before reacting. Students learn to identify their emotions and to use common language to help them express their feelings and to problem solve.  

·         General education preschool and early entrance kindergarten: In order to increase opportunities for young children to prepare for kindergarten, the Puyallup School District, in partnership with Right At School, offers preschool and an early entrance kindergarten program. Classes will be phased in over two years beginning in the fall of 2019. Kindergarten Academy will begin serving students in January/February 2020. Early learning opportunities such as those found in a preschool increase equity, equal opportunity, and high performance for students.

·         The district sponsors an early learning providers conference each year where they provide learning strategies for young children before they enter kindergarten.

·         Families are invited to Ready For Kindergarten classes where they receive information and resources to help their child prepare for kindergarten.

Statistics show that less than 50 percent of children begin school meeting kindergarten readiness performance indicators. “Early intervention is better for students. We want to catch them before the gap in their learning gets too big,” says Almai Malit, director of instructional leadership for assessment and accountability.

A perspective from teachers

Spinning Elementary kindergarten teacher Sara Clerget-Pricco says the shift to full-day kindergarten along with other interventions are having a significant impact on her students. “Now its not just surface level, we can really dig into science, writing, and math. Before, we would write simple sentences, and now our kindergartners learn proper punctuation as well.”

The RTI, LAP, and Title I individualized small group instruction which targets individual needs are having a significant impact in reaching students. “In half-day kindergarten we would never have time to do that,” says Clerget-Pricco.

Social emotional learning and Second Step lessons take place every day in kindergarten. Now students have time to practice those skills and build on what they learn. They read books, talk through problems and how to deal with them, and discuss empathy and compassion.

Kindergarten science has changed significantly. Students are getting more hands-on, problem solving time. At Meeker Elementary recently, a kindergarten class buried garbage, then came back days later to find out what happens to garbage. They discovered how a banana peel was almost gone, and the plastic was still there. They learned about composting. At Spinning students planted six plants and observed over time the effects when one received sun, water, and air while others received only one or two of these things.

At Maplewood, Ernst says the improvements she is seeing in fourth graders extends beyond reading. All her students scored at grade level during a recent math test. “The kids all passed with flying colors. We practice multiplication, addition, subtraction, and division. They have the basic skills that are developed in K-3 grades, and by the time they get to fourth grade, they are nailing it!” says Ernst.

At Brouillet Elementary teacher Judy Radcliffe’s first-grade students begin the school year prepared for the full day. She notices the difference. “They have the stamina and don’t expect to leave after lunch. They know what a full day looks like and are used to being here all day, so that’s huge,” says Radcliffe.

Radcliffe believes the improvements she is seeing in her students are the result of early learning initiatives. “They begin first grade with a better grasp of letter names and sounds, and better counting skills,” she says.

“The gift of full day kindergarten means that teachers can get the time they need to build relationships with their students so that they can create a welcoming school where all students feel seen and valued. It goes back to the theory that if you can capture a kid's heart, then you can capture their mind.” Brouillet First Grade Teacher, Judy Radcliffe

Team teaching and collaboration is key. With the RTI data, teachers know what students were able to do in reading and math the prior year.  “We gain a lot of knowledge from kindergarten teachers. Now they are coming to us identified and with the interventions already put in place before first grade,” says Radcliffe.