Sunday, December 15, 2019
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Important kindergarten lessons in Md. and Miss.

Many of life’s most important lessons are learned during the kindergarten years, including the ability to work with adults and peers, to engage in one’s own goals and success, and to make decisions that reflect a respect for the needs people around us might have.

The drug education program in the public school district of Carroll County, Maryland, begins in kindergarten, according to an editorial in the Carroll County Times.

Kindergartners learn about safe uses of medicine and saying no, Chris Tobias told a joint meeting of the county council and board of education. He’s an assistant supervisor of health for Carroll County Public Schools. In elementary school, the curriculum introduces students to the dangers of vaping, alcohol, and marijuana use, and middle and high school students see videos like “Dear Future Me” (positive social norming) and “Heroin Still Kills” (dangers of fentanyl) and learn about “modern” marijuana, including concentrates, edibles, and oils.

“To learn how young she had been introduced to narcotics was astounding to me. As a parent I was totally unaware,” the paper quoted one parent as saying. “So the fact that we have the prevention education at such a young age is a fantastic component to help us win this battle. As [Carroll County Health Officer] Ed Singer always says, it’s hard to gauge the success of this because that success is long term and we are in a long-term battle.”

Academic success also begins in kindergarten. Several Mississippi families are piloting a suite of computer software programs that help parents work with their children at home when they’re 4 years old (the preschool year before kindergarten) in order to prepare them more effectively for kindergarten, according to a summary in the Hechinger Report.

I’ve written about the need to avoid online schools for young children, saying they need the non-academic lessons as much as the academic lessons when they’re this young.

But this is different. “We’re not coming to replace anything,” the report quoted Claudia Miner, executive director for UPSTART, which is the name of the software program, as saying. “We honor everything being done, but where there are gaps, we want people to think about us.”

About 700 students’ families used the software during the 2018-2019 school year in conjunction with the Head Start program, which focuses mainly on the health and emotional developmental needs of vulnerable students but has struggled to show gains in the academic performance of kids in the program compared to those who stay home.

The self-paced UPSTART software, developed by the Waterford Institute, a Utah-based nonprofit, helps boost parent engagement in children’s learning over the nine-month program and may improve children’s academic readiness for kindergarten. The lessons are animated, include songs and games, and introduce students to important early-learning concepts, such as the connection between sounds and letters. Parents are expected to work with their children at least 15 minutes a day, but many of the pilot families actually devoted more time, averaging about 100 minutes a week during the second quarter.

“For children who live in vulnerable families where every day parents are trying to figure something out … to then have an opportunity to say, ‘We’re going to pull all of that aside and for right now, the most important thing is you.’ There’s no way you can measure the value of that, but it’s there and it’s real,” the report quoted Nita Norphlet-Thompson, an executive director of the Mississippi Head Start Association, as saying in praise of the collaboration between Head Start and UPSTART.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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