The following post is from Leon Mooneyhan, Ph.D., CEO of the Ohio Valley Educational Cooperative.
The Ohio Valley Educational Cooperative (OVEC) began the Kentucky Leads the Nation project to gather public school educators, advocates for children, and policy makers in Kentucky’s most innovative school districts to learn from and get inspired by the best.
That’s why we looked to the Hardin County Schools to change the conversation about whose job it is in a community to get children ready for Kindergarten. Hardin County’s Superintendent Nannette Johnston - Kentucky’s Superintendent of the Year - and her team are innovators making school readiness is a job for everyone in the community.
Research by Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman shows that quality preschool experiences impact character development that leads to increases in monthly income and the probability of employment and decreases in lifetime arrests, felony arrests, violent crimes, teen pregnancy and tobacco use.
Beginning at Birth
Keeping Heckman’s research in mind, the Hardin County Schools begin their work at birth. The district’s “Books for Babies” project provides every baby born at Hardin Memorial Hospital a copy of “Read to Your Bunny” by Rosemary Wells. This small paperback shares with parents the importance of reading to their child for twenty minutes a day. It’s a message that parents will hear in Hardin County time and again - the importance of language development and literacy begin at birth.
Hardin County Schools’ “First Connections” program builds on that outreach. Through six evening sessions the district supports parents and caregivers as the first and best teachers for their children. Funding from the United Way of Central Kentucky helps the district make the program free and open to parents and children ages birth to five years old.
In Hardin County and throughout Kentucky our Community Early Childhood Coordinating Councils bring together local school districts, public health departments, childcare providers, Head Start, local libraries, parents and interest groups in many other areas.
The CECCs utilize Kentucky’s Early Childhood Profile - a county-by-county data set showing numbers of students entering school “kindergarten ready,” participation rates in publicly funded Preschool, Head Start and child care; quality and availability of child care, and the education of the early childhood workforce. The data pinpoints barriers to success for young children and their families and helps communities - thru the CECCs - set targets for improvement.
With the nation’s largest Race to the Top-District grant, 22 districts in OVEC and in the Green River Regional Educational Cooperative have eight Preschool Pals working in their communities with private preschool and home care providers.
Having now visited multiple times with more than 70 providers, the Pals have built relationships of trust and collaboration. They provide training for staff, help with administration of the Brigance Screener, and use grant funds to purchase books and curriculum tailored to the providers’ and children’s needs.
Boosting Quality with Race to the Top - Early Learning Challenge
Many moms and dads struggle with childcare decisions as they consider cost, location, hours. As they look for options they soon will have a new rating system in Kentucky that will tell them about the quality of the program. The new approach will be developed as part of Kentucky’s Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge grant.
Similar to the A, B, C, D health ratings for restaurants, the new system under development will put quality up front and center and help parents understand how well-prepared the staff is to develop critical language, vocabulary and behavioral skills in children.
Making sure that every child gets the best possible start in life must be a community priority. I hope you’ll share in the lessons we’re learning in Kentucky and tap the power of partnerships wherever home is for you!
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