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Volume 21, Number 4
July/August 2005

Three Promising Initiatives

From "Bridging the PreK–Elementary Divide"


This article is published alongside "Bridging the PreK–Elementary Divide" by Sue Miller Wiltz.

States and districts throughout the country are experimenting with innovative approaches to preschool and its relationship to early elementary education. Some notable examples:

Hamburg School District—Arkansas

Arkansas was the only state to meet all ten of the National Institute of Early Education Research quality benchmarks last year. Among them: preschool teachers must hold a bachelor’s degree and be certified in early childhood education; assistants must possess at least a child development associate credential; the staff-child ratio has to be at least 1:10; maximum class size is 20 students. The state recently passed legislation providing $40 million in new funds for state preK programs that serve low-income families.

In at least one school district, administrators took the call to bridge preK and elementary instruction literally. The Hamburg School District in the Mississippi River Delta used a state grant to construct a stand-alone building—Hamburg Noble Lower Elementary—which houses four preK classrooms and connects via a walkway to Hamburg Elementary. The district now offers free, full-day preK for low-income children, serving 140 youngsters in four schools.

Elk Grove Unified School District—California

California sponsors an early childhood initiative known as First 5, which has reserved $200 million over four years to fund 206 preK school readiness programs in 58 counties. One of the most innovative programs is in the Elk Grove Unified School District outside of Sacramento, serving 790 kids in 40 classrooms. The district sponsors a morning, afternoon, and even a twilight program. “The campus is quite lively until 7 pm,” notes Roberta Peck, administrator of the First 5 School Readiness Partnerships. “Father participation is extremely high.”

Nancy Herota, the program coordinator for preschool in the district, says six of the preschool classes offer full inclusion for children with disabilities. “We see terrific gains when you have children with special needs in an environment with typically developing peers as role models,” she says, noting that inclusion benefits typically developing children too. She has also managed to obtain funding for an ongoing instructional coaching program. “That’s a critical piece,” she says. “A coach working directly one-on-one with teachers has really helped to improve the quality of preschool instruction.”

Lee Academy—Massachusetts

In Boston, Jake Murray and Rick Weissbourd of the Harvard Graduate School of Education recently collaborated with two former classroom teachers to develop a design for a school that would break down the barrier between preschool and primary school by housing both in one setting. The Lee Academy, a public school in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston that opened its doors in 2004, is built on a developmentally sequenced learning model and will ultimately serve children from age three through fifth grade. So far it enrolls 88 three-, four-, and five-year-olds, and will add a grade each year through 2009.

According to principal Kyle Dodson, the school’s preK instruction focuses on four areas that early childhood experts believe are critical to later academic success: oral language development; literacy development that is closely aligned with oral language instruction; mathematics preparation that emphasizes understanding of numbers and spatial relationships; and the development of social-emotional competencies.

Unlike their counterparts in much of the country, preschool teachers at Lee Academy have comparable training—and salaries—to those of teachers in the elementary grades and are viewed as having the same professional status.

“With the Lee Academy,” Dodson says, “we hope to provide a preK through grade 5 school where for 6 to 10 hours every day, beginning at the developmentally crucial age of three, our kids are exposed to the most loving, supportive, and intellectually rich environment possible.”