FirstSchool and PreK-3

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FirstSchool is a learning community in which the development and education of 3- to 8-year-old children, particularly African American, Latino and low-income students, is at the heart of everything we do. Every child has a right to a successful, enjoyable, high quality early school experience that fosters intellectual, physical, emotional, and social well-being, and optimizes learning and development. In partnership with families and communities, FirstSchool accepts responsibility for establishing a climate in which the education of each child is a shared responsibility of the entire school community.

Why a PreK-3 approach is needed

Children’s experiences during the early years provide the foundation for later school success.  Most children spend large amounts of time in early care and education settings outside their home. Whatever their setting, children who have high quality experiences before they enter kindergarten are more successful in school. Yet many children, particularly African American, Latino and low-income children, do not receive the quality early experiences they need.

Public school involvement with young children is increasing. More than a million children—almost one-fourth of all 4-year-olds—are in a public school program today. Some public schools serve 3-year-olds as well. Very likely in the next 10 to 20 years, public schools will become the prevalent choice for families in educating and caring for 3- and 4-year-olds.

A variety of federal, state, and local agencies are responsible for the education and care of 3- and 4-year-olds. We need a more coordinated, systematic approach to serving young children and their families. The experiences of children and families often vary dramatically depending on the particular program they use. These agencies often have no formal mechanisms for communicating about the care and educational needs of individual children or the community as a whole.

A smooth, coordinated learning experience from ages 3 to 8 is important to children and families. The goal of coordinating children’s PreK-3 experiences is to recognize when the gulf between experiences is too great for children to navigate successfully.  This requires attention to seamless transitions from home to school, one grade level to the other, and throughout each school day and year.  This gulf is particularly wide when considering the cultural discontinuity between the home lives of many African American, Latino and low-income children and the culture of schools.

America is becoming more diverse. About 47% of children under 5 are ethnically or linguistically diverse, according to a 2008 U.S. Census report. This percentage is expected to grow over the next decade. Public schools must adapt to meet the needs of this increasingly diverse population of children.

From age 3 to 8, children learn the essential foundations of reading and writing.  Most children develop substantial oral language skills by age 3, and by the time they reach third grade, schools expect them to be relatively competent in written language.   Academic success beyond the third grade is highly dependent on children’s skills in writing and understanding written language.   Schools typically increase and alter expectations for children at about age 7 or 8, which underscores the need to prepare teachers to help children reach these goals.

Essential to commitment to the success of each child is a genuine belief in his/her capability. A child’s ability and competence needs to be defined far beyond the realms of achievement on standardized tests, and schools and educators must make real strides to consider more comprehensively the education and nurturance of all aspects of early human development.

Collectively, these facts call for action. We believe we can best develop and implement  successful early schooling only through strong collaborative relationships with all those involved in the education and care of children—families, the early childhood community, public schools, and a wide range of individuals and agencies who are invested in positive outcomes for children.

Source: Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute

Available at: http://firstschool.fpg.unc.edu/firstschool-and-prek-3

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