It is a sad fact that approximately one-third of Michigan kindergarteners are unprepared to begin their academic life, despite the recognition that kindergarten readiness is an elemental predictor of the long-term vitality of a community. The Pokagon Fund believes that meeting the needs of our youngest children requires an increase in their access to quality early childhood education and a focus on best practices for insuring early literacy in grades K-3. The Fund intends to collaborate with local education and health programs to ensure that children in the community get the strong start that will help them thrive in school. Readiness is not an elusive concept. The Great Start Collaborative of Berrien County has published a Great Start Get-Ready Guide that identifies four basic components for a successful kindergarten preparedness program:
- Ready Children. A ready child has strong relationships, a strong mind, and a strong body. Within each of those areas, key skills are developed so that children begin Kindergarten ready to learn and be successful.
- Ready Families. A ready family has adults who understand they are the most important people in their child’s life. They take responsibility for their child’s school readiness by playing and interacting with their child in a positive way every single day.
- Ready Schools. A ready school accepts all children, has high expectations, and provides a welcoming transition to a high-quality classroom, where the child feels safe, comfortable and able to learn. Children in ready schools are led by skilled teachers, who recognize children’s strengths and who are respectful of cultural values and individual differences.
- Ready Communities. A ready community plays an important role in supporting families as they help their child get ready for school. Ready communities work together to support a child’s school by providing families with affordable access to information, services, high-quality child care, and early learning experiences.
Achieving such a degree of preparedness has significant benefits. It is well accepted that children exposed to high quality, pre-kindergarten childhood care and education will be better prepared for kindergarten, will achieve at higher levels throughout their K-12 education, will be more likely to earn a high school and college degree and will achieve greater employment success in adulthood. However, childhood care involves more than just dealing with the educational essentials such as reading proficiency. It requires securing the health and well-being of pre-school children, many of whom are disadvantaged.
The Pokagon Fund recognizes the need to overcome the impact that poverty, lack of food security and inadequate child care assistance has on a youngster’s readiness to join the educational community. With more than 26.2% of children in Berrien County living in poverty according to the Michigan League for Public Policy’s Kids Count in Michigan Data Book 2016, the Fund intends to put its grant funds to good use. In its report to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, the Third Grade Reading Workgroup made the following recommendation:
In order to effectively help our children succeed, we must engage and support their parents and family. Children’s development during their first few years has an enduring impact on their educational and vocational outcomes. Early interventions, including home visits, have many lasting positive impacts, including improved maternal and infant health, higher levels of school readiness, and stronger parent-child relationships. Michigan must provide parents with training to promote their children’s physical and social health and early literacy skills. We recommend Michigan allocate additional targeted funding to help developing infants and toddlers.
There are a number of programs in Berrien County that provide assistance to families in need of childhood care:
- The Maternal and Infant Health Program (MIHP) of the InterCare Community Health Network is certified by the Michigan Department of Community Health to provide prenatal and early infancy services to Medicaid-eligible women and infants. MIHP’s mission is to provide pregnant women and babies with high-quality support services to help make sure both the mother and baby are healthy and well. www.intercare.org/mihp
- The Berrien County Health Department’s Nurse-Family Partnership is a free program for women who are having their first baby. Any woman who is pregnant with her first child, meets income requirements and lives in Berrien County can enroll and have a registered nurse will visit her in her home throughout pregnancy and continue to visit until her baby is 2 years old. www.bchdmi.org/cchs/nfp
- The Berrien Regional Education Service Agency (Berrien RESA) conducts the Early On® program that provides support for children from birth to age three and assists families that have a concern about their child’s growth and learning, and helps children who have a developmental delay. www.berrienresa.org
- Berrien RESA also conducts the The Parents as Teachers (PAT) Program, a free service that is offered to families in Berrien County who are pregnant or have children under the age of three. PAT offers two types of services: (1) Personal Home Visits that provide an opportunity to receive information that is individualized to a child and its family; and (2) Group Connections, a program that organizes playgroups and events offered throughout the year to give families opportunities to make connections with other families. berrienresa.org/education_services
- The Great Start Collaborative of Berrien County is a partnership of community leaders, business owners, charitable and faith-based organizations, health and human service agencies, educators, and parents. Together, these groups work to provide a network of resources. For example, Great Start provides a directory of schools for pre-kindergarten children to assist parents in making school choice. The Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP) has improved access to the high quality learning opportunities statewide. GSRP is one of several free preschool programs in Berrien County for 4-year old children. Applications are reviewed for Head Start eligibility first. Each child must qualify for the preschool program based on guidelines that include income verification and documentation of other school success risk factors.
Click to View the Get Ready Parent Guide PDF
With its focus on education as a primary area of greatest need for local residents, The Pokagon Fund will be working with these and other programs to prepare children for kindergarten and all that follows.
For More Information on Early Childhood Education see the following: