By Ronnie Ellis
CNHI News Service
FRANKFORT – Shannon Hankins, an English Language Arts teacher at Crabbe Elementary School in Ashland, understands what Gov. Steve Beshear means when he says: “When children start out behind, they stay behind.”
Hankins works with Geri Willis at the school’s family resource center. This year the school, which has an enrollment of 385 students, nearly nine of 10 of whom qualify for free or reduced lunches, began a program targeting pre-school children “who do not come prepared for kindergarten,” children of parents who love their children but might not have the skills or understanding to prepare their children for school.
Hankins said the program addresses the emotional, physical, social and academic needs of each child.
“We’re not going to leave a piece of that child behind,” she said.
The program is already showing signs of improvement in kindergarten children and the school administration continues to look for more ways to help those children, according to Crabbe Principal Brad Greene.
That’s why Crabbe Elementary will participate in an innovative “Bornlearning” program developed by United Way of Greater Cincinnati at Beechwood Elementary in Kenton County and now expanded to 10 elementary schools across the state with a $115,000 grant from Toyota Motor Manufacturing.
In addition to Crabbe Elementary in Ashland, the money will start Bornlearning Academies at Hiseville Elementary in Barren County, Berea Elementary, Burgin Elementary, May Valley Elementary in Prestonsburg, Grandview Elementary in Bellevue, East Calloway (County) Elementary, H.W. Wilkey Elementary in Leitchfield, Farley Elementary in Paducah and Boston Elementary in New Haven.
Beshear, Toyota President Will James and United Way of Kentucky President Doug Eberhart announced the pilot programs Tuesday at a Capitol press conference. James said Toyota plans ultimately to make a five-year, $450,000 investment in the program.
The aim is to use monthly workshops to train parents and grandparents of children ages birth to 4 “how to turn everyday moments into learning opportunities,” said Beshear.
School officials won’t just wait for students to come to them – they’re going out looking for those students before they reach kindergarten age.
“Ordinarily, we’d just have an open enrollment,” said Jeff Richey, principal at Hiseville. “Now, we’re trying to create learning events for children anytime from three to pre-school. We’ll target anybody in the community with children from birth to pre-school age.”
That includes in-home visits, school newsletters and just circulating information through the small community in Barren County, said Sheila Hunt, coordinator of the resource center at Hiseville, a school of 255 students, 70 percent of whom qualify for free or reduced lunches. The school has also begun enrolling more and more children of migrant farm workers.
Diane Smith, the resource center coordinator at Berea Elementary in Madison County, said the stereotype that single parents or poor parents don’t value education for their children is way off base.
“Our parents love their children very deeply and they care deeply about their education,” she explained. “But they just don’t know what resources they should provide for their children.”
All of the school officials were to attend meetings Tuesday in Frankfort to learn about the curriculum used by the Bornlearning Academies and how to use it with parents and young children to ensure they’re ready when they reach kindergarten.
“We keep hearing it’s based around fun activities,” said Barb Mills, the program facilitator at Berea.
“We’ll have monthly workshops for parents for the next six months,” Smith said. “Getting the basic support for the child and getting him or her ready to do things like recognize letters and be ready for kindergarten. We’re very excited about the program.”
Terry Tolan, executive director of the Beshear administration’s Office of Early Childhood, said the academies are ideal for creating a stronger learning environment for children.
“Parents are a child’s first and most important teachers, and every parent wants to see their child succeed,” Tolan said. “Bornlearning Academies help parents of young children learn how they can best meet their child’s needs to assure they will be ready for kindergarten.”
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.