Bridgeport, Connecticut is a prime example of a community where children are at extreme risk for educational failure and a continued life of poverty. Ninety-five percent of Bridgeport’s public school children are economically disadvantaged as measured by the free or reduced price lunch program. And, 34% of Bridgeport’s children enter kindergarten without having ANY formal early learning experiences. It is, therefore, reasonable to estimate that at a minimum, 900 (45%) of Bridgeport children entering Kindergarten are two or more years delayed in speech and language and do not have the requisite language skills necessary to become successful readers by third grade. As a result, children are entering the public schools far behind their suburban peers and never catch up.
So, what is the Bridgeport Alliance for Young Children (BAYC) doing to move the indicator and prepare children to read on grade level by third grade?
Children enter school ready to learn: 2012-13 was the first year that Bridgeport school-based and community-based programs used the web-based CTPAF to assess children. This was a significant step toward having school-based and community-based programs teaching with the same standards in mind. The teachers will again assess their children using EASTCONN’s ctpaf2.0 for 2013-14, giving us 2 years of data.
Children successfully transition from pre-k to kindergarten: 2013 was the first year that Bridgeport presented Bridging the Gap: A Workshop for PreK and K Teachers. The workshop was co-chaired by Bridgeport Public School Chief Academic Officer and the Director of Early Education. A second year’s workshop is currently being planned for May with an expanded committee comprised of preK and Kindergarten teachers. The focus of the 2014 workshop will be integration of Connecticut’s Early Learning and Development Standards, the Kindergarten Common Core, and Bridgeport Public School’s Language Arts Curriculum which is designed to provide effective reading and writing instruction for all students.
We also completed the sixth year of Kick Off to Kindergarten in July 2013. Fondly referred to as KOK, the program is free to children who are starting Kindergarten with no preschool experience. KOK is three weeks of focused activities that introduce children to books, numbers, and how to play in groups. Two parent workshops are provided to give parents materials and activities that continue preparing their child for starting school for the first time away from home.
Teachers used the Brigance Preschool Assessment as a pre- and post-test assessment for the KOK students. Students averaged 54 points on the pre-assessment and 64 points on the post-assessment, showing a 10 point growth in just 3 weeks of focused activities. Most important, parents and children were able to begin Kindergarten without separation issues.
KOK is supported by a grant from the United Way of Coastal Fairfield County. The grant pays for teachers and teacher aides and supplies. The Bridgeport Public Schools provide classrooms, breakfast and lunch for the children.
The most significant barrier to KOK is transportation to and from class. Parents must bring their child to class and pick them up after lunch. Busing the children is far beyond the budget. KOK takes place during regular public school summer school therefore vacations do not pose a barrier for KOK.
Children are sustaining the gains through third grade: Bridgeport is in the early stages of collaboration among agencies and government to raise awareness of chronic absenteeism and providing summer learning opportunities. BAYC routinely sends out “tweets” promoting good attendance at school and has a partnership with the United Way and the Mayor’s office to tweet to their list of Twitter followers. We are also working with the public schools to capture data on attendance for children in school-based and community-based preschool.
Through the relationship we have built with the Bridgeport Public Schools, BAYC collected DRA2 data for Kindergarten students in May 2012 and the same cohort of children as 1st grade students In October 2012. The comparison data demonstrates a small learning loss for this cohort of children. The DRA2 data for Kindergarten students in May 2013 as 1st graders in October 2013 will be collected and analyzed this year. Using the data, the collaborative, led by the United Way of Coastal Fairfield County designed their Annual Day of Action to focus on reading and ending Summer Slide.
For 2013, the United Way teamed up with town libraries to boost excitement about summer reading! The participating libraries hosted events around reading--- for example, storytellers, reading trivia games, music as storytelling. At the events, United Way volunteers encouraged children and families to pledge to read this summer and gave out Summer Reading Backpacks filled with all the necessities for summer reading. Those who pledged were entered in a special drawing.
Day of Action was not only a community engagement activity; it was an opportunity to raise awareness of the loss of literacy skills that happens when children are not actively reading all summer. United Way's work in helping children in need succeed in school and life includes getting them the critical resources they need to be prepared for kindergarten, gain the reading skills they need and keep them on track with their literacy skills and learning.