is ready to move beyond its original mission of prepping kids for kindergarten enrollment to tackle school attendance problems.
The program was begun in 2006 by the University of Pittsburgh's Office of Child Development, which devises demo projects and test programs for school improvement.
Ready Freddy has aimed to get all eligible kids enrolled in kindergarten on time, even early, so they can be prepared for that first day. Being ready to transition to kindergarten is an important factor for school success.
Ready Freddy concentrates on seven Pittsburgh Public School: Langley, King, Miller, Weil, Faison, Arlington and Spring Hill. At each school it puts together a kindergarten team made up of school staff, such as principals, kindergarten teachers, social workers, counselors and others, then reaches out to community groups in the neighborhood to get them involved as well.
At Pittsburgh King PreK-8, for instance, the team is working with Reading is Fundamental, A+ Schools and local family support centers to figure out new ways to reach the community. If families do not enroll early or on time, says the program director, Aisha White, schools can even have too few classrooms and teachers set to handle the incoming kids.
Ready Freddy teams have been handing out flyers, setting up parent welcome spots at child-care centers and going door to door in public housing, telling parents how to enroll at their local schools and informing them that the district's pre-K program is free to certain income levels. During summers, kindergarten clubs at the seven focal schools invite families to attend preparatory sessions.
The schools also hold transition events that allow kids and parents to tour their future school building and meet the teachers, "so that process is not so anxiety-based, once they start school in September," White says. "They will already have made a connection with the staff people at the school and they will better know what to expect."
Then, she says, "we make the first day of kindergarten a big deal," by welcoming kids at the door with refreshments and decorations.
"We've had major impact at the very beginning," reports White. "Ready Freddy was able to increase kindergarten enrollment to 100 percent" of eligible kids at King and Pittsburgh Weil PreK-5.
Today, the program is planning "to come up with strategies to encourage and reward attendance," she says. "Attendance is a major issue nationwide," and of course it affects a child's ability to perform well in school. Kids who miss 18 or more days of school per year in kindergarten perform worse than their peers in first grade. In fact, it affects their education for years: only 17 percent of kids with high absences in the first two grades are proficient in reading in third grade.
At Spring Hill, King and Arlington, a Public Allies Americorps volunteer is collecting kindergarten attendance data, visiting the schools and calling the families of absent kids to encourage their attendance. The first two schools now use a kindergarten parent newsletter to keep families informed about classroom work and activities, and all three schools are working to reward the classrooms with the best attendance. White is hoping businesses local to all seven schools will pitch in by donating items for attendance rewards.
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Aisha White, Ready Freddy