Chapel Hill News

Orange County’s Family Success Alliance reports pre-K prep program making progress

A pilot program meant to prepare disadvantaged children for kindergarten success has seen significant progress in its first year, officials with Family Success Alliance said Monday.

The Alliance, a coalition of government agencies and community partners, is building a cradle-to-career pipeline for low-income students. The effort is founded on the success of similar programs, such as the East Durham Children’s Initiative and Harlem Children’s Zone.

Successful programs could be used in other neighborhoods in the future.

The kindergarten readiness program is a pilot effort to level the academic playing field, funded with $75,000 from Orange County.

“We’re thrilled to report that we saw significant improvements in the assessment scores of children that participated in this first year of the kindergarten readiness program,” said Michael Steiner, chairman of the Alliance’s Advisory Council. “This is the start of multiple interventions that will carry these children on a pipeline to young adult success.”

Results from the first year of the program were released at a news conference.

Success was measured by testing the children before and after the program with the N.C. Kindergarten Entrance Assessment and other measures of literacy, math, and social and emotional skills.

While only about 9 percent of the children measured proficient before the program, officials said, 67 percent were proficient by the end. Their teachers reported “moderate to substantial gains,” and 84 percent of parents said the program better prepared their children for kindergarten.

Alliance partners worked with Chapel Hill-Carrboro and Orange County schools teachers to identify children qualified for the program and contact their families.

Sixty-six families agreed to join the program, which exposed them to the social, emotional and academic environment of the classroom. The half-day classes were small – no more than eight students to one teacher – and were held in July and August at New Hope, Carrboro and Frank Porter Graham elementary schools.

The schools are located in two zones with high concentrations of children in poverty – Zone 6 in Chapel Hill-Carrboro and Zone 4 in rural Orange County.

At least 70 percent of program participants qualified for free or reduced-price lunch, a common indicator of poverty, and 62 percent were Hispanic, a report shows. A quarter of the students were white.

Just over half had a prior education experience, they said.

Parents also received instruction in how to read with their children, help with learning and have productive conversations about school. All of them were there to celebrate with their children when the program ended, said Ambra Wilson, assistant principal of New Hope Elementary.

Parent Claudia Yerena said her 5-year-old son had a very different experience going to kindergarten this year than his 7-year-old brother did two years ago. Her older son was scared and shy, she said, refusing to go to school. His younger brother was excited and ready to start.

The younger brother has more confidence, she said.

“He also started with more academic skills (and) at school, I think he took it more seriously,” Yerena said. “He made friends, and he knows the teachers, he knows the routine, where everything goes. ... He’s not afraid of anything right now.”

Alliance partners already are considering how to improve next year’s kindergarten readiness program and add other programs to help children. Program staff and teachers made several recommendations, from adding more enrichment activities and field trips to expanding enrollment, serving more children with no school experience and finding more ways to get parents involved.

The program also has potential for helping to close the minority achievement gap, said Magda Parvey, assistant superintendent for instructional services in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro district.

When students lack basic skills that other students come in with, it puts them at a deficit, Parvey said.

“So coming in with some language, coming in and understanding what school is about,” Parvey said. “That puts them on equal footing.”

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb

Major outcomes

Sixty-six children from three schools participated in the summer kindergarten readiness program. Here are their results in literacy, math and social and emotional skills as measured by the N.C. Kindergarten Entrance Assessment:

New Hope Elementary: 0 to 63 percent proficiency

Carrboro Elementary: 33 to 61 percent proficiency

Frank Porter Graham Elementary: 0 to 74 percent proficiency

Source: Family Success Alliance