Community group aims to prepare kids for kindergarten

The Early Childhood Collaborative of Southington is piecing together a town-wide campaign to ensure that all children are ready to attend kindergarten after finding data showing that Southington kids are not quite up to kindergarten-readiness standards.

In the midst of a two-year plan, the first year was focused on conducting interviews, surveys, and data reports and implementing focus groups to gather and analyze information. Now in the second year, strategies are being developed to take that information and target the areas that need more help.

The plan is operating off a grant from the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund and the Community Foundation of Greater New Britain.

Michelle Slimak, co-chairperson for ECCS, said as a whole, Southington has been falling short when it comes to preparing children for kindergarten.

“Southington kids are not showing they’re ready for school,” Slimak said. “They’re consistently not doing as well as Connecticut as a whole.”

Results revealed the number of children entering kindergarten with at least one year of pre-school in Southington decreased by 5.3 percent from 2003 to 2010. In the state, the number increased by 4.1 percent.

Slimak said kindergarten teachers conduct an entrance inventory, which is an assessment done within the first two months of school to evaluate students.

“Southington does not do well on the kindergarten assessment,” Slimak said.

The data gathered reveals not just educational factors tied to a child’s readiness, but other factors as well, going as early as the percentage of women who receive prenatal care: Southington increased 2.6 percent from 2006-09. Also, an increasing trend of low birth weight babies was discovered, showing the number in Southington went from 7.2 percent in 1999-2001 to 8.3 percent in 2007-09.

CFGNB President Jim Williamson said a large focus of the foundation is early childhood development, and there has been collaboration between the foundation and ECCS for a few years.

“We think they’re getting into areas which are very important,” Williamson said. “It’s a very complex set of factors which all come together to either prepare or not prepare the child for success in school.”

Strategies to remedy the problem are still being worked out, as the plan is still in the discovery stage, but ECCS has reached out to town organizations, departments, schools, and local businesses to get the community involved.

“We’re currently in the early stages of reaching out to groups in Southington and seeing what strategies are going to work and what groups are willing to work with us,” Slimak said.

One such organization is Southington Daycare Providers Association. Maria Nelson, president of SDPA, said especially with the implementation of all-day kindergarten, it’s more important than ever to make sure kids are ready for the adjustment that going to school brings.

“It’s baby steps to get where we need to go, but I think most home daycare providers want the best for their children,” Nelson said.

Nelson said the plan needs to be handled as a community, and she had no hesitation getting involved when the ECCS approached her.

“The more we can do before they get there, the easier transition they’ll have,” Nelson said.

On Tuesday, Nov. 12, a community forum will be hosted to get feedback from residents and string together a more comprehensive understanding of what’s going on. The completed plan is scheduled to be revealed in May.

“We really want to get people’s feedback and see what they think about things we’ve done so far,” Slimak said.

Williamson said it’s a common goal to have kids be ready for school, but mostly it’s the question of showing the community how it can help.

“We think it’s a way as well to really strengthen and build the bonds within a community,” Williamson said. “And when you do that, the whole community gets healthier and better.”

ECCS has been around approximately 10 years. For more information, visit www.frcsouthington.com.



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