This post is by Sarah Bollard (@BollardSarah), Judy Center Coordinator at Baltimore City Public Schools (@BaltCitySchools).
Today’s post is the practitioner perspective on Monday’s post: Toward Kindergarten Readiness For Every Child.
Judy Centers exist specifically to ensure children will enter kindergarten ready for school. These early childhood, family engagement centers are typically placed in areas where schools have consistently seen a lack of school readiness that contributes to the achievement gap. In Baltimore, we are fortunate to have 11 schools housing a Judy Center and have seen excellent gains in school readiness in the schools using this wrap-around service approach from birth-5. These 11 schools were selected in response to the ongoing problem of lack of school readiness in their associated school zones. Many of these schools have high English Language Learner populations and high Special Needs populations and are situated in areas with high unemployment rates and unstable housing, among other barriers to success.
Recent research by the Baltimore Education Research Consortium (BERC) examined how Judy Centers improve kindergarten readiness and help decrease achievement gaps in Baltimore, helping us better understand and further increase our impact. Through the research we have seen that Judy Center programs are indeed working and providing families and their children with supports to not only catch up to but even outperform their peers (see Monday’s post for more detailed research findings). This research has been incredibly helpful and assisted us in understanding how our programs have impacted Baltimore children from low-income families. In addition to solidifying that Judy Centers are indeed accomplishing their mission of increasing kindergarten readiness, the research has also yielded new insights that we built off of to increase our reach and effectiveness even more and highlighted areas of improvement for us to address.
Use of Research Findings in Practice
The research found that children working with the Judy Center outperformed those students that did not by 22 points on the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment, within the the domains of literacy, mathematics, social foundations, and physical development. In addition to student growth, the Judy Center families benefited in terms of developing social capital among themselves. These findings have lead the Judy Center to develop an even greater outreach strategy to identify more children age 0-5 living in the community and begin working with the family as early on as possible in order to ensure this program is reaching as many families as possible. This will also allow the Judy Centers to begin connecting parents to each other earlier on, developing those strong bonds and creating a circle of support earlier on in the process.
BERC researchers also suggested to increase the amount of activities and supports done as a collective group of Judy Centers for greater efficiency and impact. By utilizing the 11 Baltimore-based Judy Centers as a collective group we will begin a summer of Judy Center outreach where large community walks will occur at each center. During this time all staff of all Judy Centers will walk the neighborhoods, meeting families and providing information about the supports their local Judy Center can provide. This allows at least 22 people to canvas the community as opposed to 2, getting more ground covered in a shorter period of time.
As we move forward in our work towards kindergarten readiness by reaching the whole child, their family, and others surrounding them through the Judy Center model in Baltimore, we are examining how our specific programs are currently supporting success as children enter kindergarten. The research findings provided by BERC has resulted in us wanting to dive deeper and determine what specific programming is driving the best outcomes. We are currently identifying and analyzing the success of before and after care programs and summer camp programming and identifying outcomes of families using case management.
While Judy Center children are outperforming their peers across the state overall, we do recognize the dip in math, where children with Judy Center experience demonstrated less readiness in mathematics than the state of Maryland’s average. We intend to identify more ways we can support families as their child’s first teacher to begin working on early math skills. In addition, Judy Centers are working to identify quality math professional development for early childhood educators working in pre-K, Head Start, and child care centers to support this initiative as well.
The opinions expressed in Urban Education Reform: Bridging Research and Practice are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.