Most people feel that a good education is one of the best tools to help a child get off to a good start. While a good high school GPA and extracurricular activities are important for college, new research has found that the foundation of a successful academic career is laid much earlier in life.
Little Falls Community Schools has supported an early childhood program in one form or another since 1984. Director of Early Childhood Education, Stacy Gold, took over when her predecessor, Jenelle Peters, retired. Gold continues to develop the program and the services it offers to families around Morrison County.
One of Gold’s important resources is the book, “Early Childhood Interventions: Proven Results, Future Promise,” by Lynn Karoly. In the book, Karoly examines a wide variety of research studies conducted over the course of 35 years, tracking the academic success of children that benefited from early childhood educational opportunities and those who did not.
In the book, Karoly asserts, “School readiness includes not only cognitive skills but also those associated with socialization, self-regulatory behavior and learning approaches.
“Children with more disadvantaged backgrounds enter school with lower levels of the knowledge and social competencies that are important for subsequent school success. While these readiness measures indicate that children from more enriched environments enter school better prepared, longitudinal data demonstrates that these early gaps persist and even widen as children progress through school,” Karoly states in the book.
“I am so very proud of the program we offer the community members in Little Falls. Jenelle did a great job laying the foundation our program is built on,” said Gold. “Our enrollment in both Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) and preschool continues to climb. The phenomenal staff that we have is a huge asset as we are often the first face that the public has with the school system.”
Gold said she often hears from kindergarten teachers that children who come through the ECFE program are easily identified as more ready for kindergarten.
Little Falls Community Schools offers ECFE classes at Lincoln Elementary, CEC, and Dr. S.G. Knight in Randall, with classes available during the day and evening. The program also offers preschool classes in conjunction with the school year. Classes are available in two or three half-day sessions along with an optional third half-day experience on Fridays in all three elementary sites.
“Studies show that the benefits of preschool include overall academic achievement and school success, less grade repetition and special education and increased high school graduation rates,” said Gold.
The benefits of early childhood education and preschool have also been noticed by other area educators.
“Whether we like it or not, kindergarten simply isn’t what it used to be when you and I were in school,” said Lincoln Elementary kindergarten teacher Julie Alholm.
“Kindergarten has become far more rigorous and academic. For example, your child will be expected to write complete sentences and read when they leave kindergarten. Preschool has taken the place of what you and I probably experienced in kindergarten,” Alholm said.
To register their child for 2016-17 preschool, parents will need to attend one of the following sessions: April 18 or 19, from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. or 5 p.m. – 7 p.m., at the Little Falls Community High School, near Community Services. Parents in Randall can attend April 21, from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. or April 22, from 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. at Dr. S.G. Knight Elementary.
The Little Falls School District is seeking additional funding as part of the May 10 referendum to help grow the program and to continue to provide high quality early childhood education opportunities for children and families.
“It’s an exciting time in our community with the upcoming referendum,” said Gold. “In voting yes to question one, you will be supporting not only long-term maintenance needs, academics, security and accessibility, you will also be equipping us with the funding needed to build an addition onto Lincoln Elementary, to house our Early Childhood programs.”
She said the current site, “Just doesn’t have the room to house our programs. To be able to continue to meet the needs of all students, we need this new location.”
Beyond ECFE classes and preschool education, the Early Childhood program also conducts early childhood screenings. These short appointments help to catch developmental issues, sight or hearing problems early, therefore helping to ensure a successful start to kindergarten.
“We want to guide parents in equipping their child with all the support necessary to have a great school career,” Gold said.
Early childhood screening is mandated by the state and must be completed before a child enters any preschool program or kindergarten.