Education: School Readiness

At United Way of Story County (UWSC), we believe that when we are United together, we can find solutions that make long-lasting, positive change in the lives of individuals and families, which is why our 2018 LIVE UNITED Campaign theme is “In order to live better, we must LIVE UNITED.” Because when we LIVE UNITED, everyone wins.
This month we are focusing on our work in education, specifically in the areas of attendance, school readiness, and summer learning. Last week we talked about our progress in increasing the attendance rate of students in our county. This week we’ll take a closer look at what your donor dollars are doing through programs that ensure our kindergartners are starting school ready to learn.
Through Story County Reads, a collaboration between United Way and many partners throughout the county, our education initiatives operate under the goals of the Campaign for Grade Level Reading (CGLR); that every child starts school prepared, is in school every day, and continues to learn all year long. Without a focus on school readiness, children may already be behind before they even step foot in a classroom. Making sure our children are prepared is the first step in ensuring that they have the building blocks for future academic success.
So what does it mean to be school ready? Many teachers have a list of “prerequisites” that a child entering kindergarten should be capable of before they would consider them ready to participate in a classroom. Most of these are thought processes such as knowing how to count, tying their own shoes, writing with a pencil, and going to the bathroom on their own. But what about those less concrete behaviors; how to raise your hand when you have a question, how to carry a lunch tray with a heavy milk on it, how to line up with your peers when leaving a room? These skills aren’t experienced in a home setting and can make the adjustment to a classroom chaotic if students aren’t prepared.
Children begin learning long before they meet their first school teacher. From prenatal education all the way to a structured school setting, this continuum of time is important for setting our children up to excel and for empowering parents to be their child’s first teacher.
Our school readiness programs focus on developing parental knowledge. Small Talk Story County, a partnership between the Ames Public Library, Raising Readers in Story County (RRSC), and Iowa State University allows participating parents to learn more ways to talk, read, and play with their baby while understanding how those skills help their baby’s brain develop. Reach Out and Read, a collaboration between RRSC and health care providers, offers books to children at well child checkups. These books are great tools for parents to instill a love of reading and interaction at an early age. YSS offers Healthy Futures, which provides prenatal support, parenting and child development information, and family assistance to other resources. Lutheran Services in Iowa (LSI) is piloting the Parent Café, which creates an informal, safe, and inviting atmosphere where small groups of parents can engage in conversations based around specific topics. The goal is to offer a space where parents and caregivers can share and support each other without feeling judged.
While preparing parents helps their childrens’ development, there are programs that work directly with the pre-school aged children. RRSC offers Story Pals for 3-5 year olds and Super K Transition to Kindergarten for children entering Kindergarten in the fall. Story Pals provides additional reading experiences especially to those who have limited access to books and reading at home. The Super K program runs for two weeks per cohort, operating in a school setting the summer prior to the child’s kindergarten year. Children learn those structured behaviors like standing in line for recess, lining up at the door quietly, raising their hands to ask a question, opening tricky milk cartons, and how to use a bathroom that isn’t like their bathroom at home. 
There are many programs that address early childhood experiences supported through your donations. Programs such as Parents As Teachers through LSI, quality childcare programs with sliding fee schedules that support working parents with limited income, and Storks Nest that provide incentives to engage parents in learning about healthy child development.  We also understand the importance of making sure all families have the basic needs to feed, shelter and clothe their children. All these tie into school readiness.  
As we continue to create a community where all students are ready, attending school every day, and learning all year long, impacting those first few years in a child’s life is the first step. Your donation to United Way ensures that you too are part of the solution.