When young learners come to school, the focus often centers on their academic achievement. In Peninsula School District, however, school leaders saw nearly two-thirds of entering kindergarteners below grade level expectation in their social and emotional development.
Kristi Rivera, principal at the district’s Purdy Elementary School, said it was clear something needed to be done.
“We know that kids can’t learn unless their social and emotional needs are also supported,” Rivera said. “We’re seeing more and more kids come into school with a lot of stresses in their lives.”
In response, Rivera and other Peninsula leaders created and launched an extensive initiative to help support students’ social-emotional development, provide professional development to district staff, and raise awareness of the effects of toxic stress on young learners in the community.
“Our teachers are very excited,” Rivera said. “My staff is saying ‘These are the things we need to know about,’ so they can better understand why children are behaving the way they are and build positive relationships with students.”
Peninsula’s new initiative was one of 12 action research projects presented Nov. 4 at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation by school leaders throughout the state. Teams presented their projects as part of their work in the Washington P-3 Executive Leadership Certificate Program, launched by the University of Washington College of Education to prepare leaders working across the P-3 continuum.
Kristie Kauerz, director of the UW’s National P-3 Center, said the action research projects highlight a variety of strategies undertaken to improve the quality of learning opportunities provided to young children in Washington and to close opportunity and achievement gaps.
“These projects are directly influencing and improving P-3 in school districts and communities across our state,” Kauerz said. “We’re pleased to work with Washington’s P-3 leaders as they engage with complex challenges and create innovative approaches to better serving our youngest learners.”
Shared learning opportunities
In Kent School District, a team launched a project to help preschool providers, parents and K-12 counterparts work together collaboratively to support children in developing their language and math skills before entering kindergarten.
Lisa Couch, principal of Orting Primary School and a member of the Kent team, said the project helped empower families by providing structured activities and materials for use at home.
“We heard parents who said they felt really honored and valued,” Couch said. “One of the key lessons we learned is we need to build partnerships with our families in a very friendly and inviting way.”
Increasing collaboration between Pre-K and Kindergarten
A team from Auburn is leading an initiative during the 2016-17 school year to implement learning labs that enable P-3 teachers to engage in meaningful, job-embedded professional learning.
“We wanted to be very intentional about including Pre-K teachers in the learning labs our district had started for grade-level teachers,” said Nicole Budzynski, Auburn School District’s early childhood coordinator.
By building more opportunities for collaboration between district- and community-based early childhood providers, Budzynski said, Auburn aims to build teacher capacity and narrow student achievement gaps.
High-quality professional learning for para-educators
While para-educators play a crucial role in supporting student learning, Highline’s Toni Cheever said the district discovered that they were afforded few opportunities for professional development.
“We’ve started inviting para-educators to some of teacher training offered this year and asked our para-educators what kind of training they want and need to know,” said Cheever, early childhood program specialist.
“It’s important for staff retention, knowing that we are invested in their growth,” Cheever said. “We know if we have better-trained educators across the board, working together, our kids are going to do better.”
Kristie Kauerz, Research Assistant Professor and Director, National P-3 Center
Dustin Wunderlich, Director for Marketing and Communications