Making the transition

The Brentwood Union School District will welcome nearly 1,000 transitional and traditional kindergarten students for the 2015-2016 school year next July.

According to national studies, on the very first day they meet their teacher, 400 of those students will already be behind in school.

In the ongoing debate over universal preschool, the severity of the challenge is often glossed over.

When compared to research-based, foundational language and literacy skills that help a child to be successful in kindergarten, twenty percent of students arrive one year behind, ten percent of students arrive two years behind and an additional ten percent of students arrive three years behind.

That is right, forty percent of children start kindergarten behind.

According to the International Reading Association, “It is common to find within a kindergarten classroom a five-year range in children’s literacy-related skills and functioning. What this means is that some kindergartners may have skills characteristic of the typical three-year-old, while others might be functioning at the level of the typical eight-year-old.”

Multiple research studies show that this range in academic achievement continues and even widens as students transition from kindergarten to high school. Simply put, children who start behind in school often stay behind in school; students who start behind in school have less than a 6 percent chance of attending a four-year university.

In the seminal research study by Hart and Risely, children in high-income families hear approximately 30 million more words than children in low-income families, before they even start school. Since more than 85 percent of a preschool-age student’s vocabulary is derived directly from their parents and caregivers, the language exposure for children from poverty is dramatically different.

Language exposure is directly correlated to the academic success of a child.The fact that some children hear fewer than one-third of the words of their peers helps to significantly reduce their chance of being successful in school.

The Bay Area Council Early Childhood Education Committee concluded that a substantial body of nuerological research clearly demonstrates that the brain is physically shaped by early social, educational and emotional experiences that affect both learning and health for the rest of a child’s life. Unfortunately, too many California children lack the experiences, interactions and relationships that create a strong cognitive and emotional foundation. Absent that foundation, students struggle tremendously in school.

Study after study shows that remediation of students in school is ineffective and expensive, as schools typically spend twice as much to remediate a student who is below grade level and these remediation efforts are often unsuccessful. Research also shows that grade-level retention, or holding a student back, is almost never effective.  Holding students back leads to a staggering increase in the odds that they will drop out of high school.

Brentwood is full of amazing preschool programs that have a profound impact on student success. The district has amazing primary-grade-level teachers, who work tirelessly to try and make every child a successful reader. Each neighborhood in Brentwood has home after home of families who are doing everything they can to try and prepare their children for a successful educational career. Even with all of these efforts, more than 1 of every 3 children enter school needing immediate remediation.

As superintendent of the district, I truly believe that our community can dramatically increase the percentage of students who are academically prepared to start school if we all work together.

We have joined together with several wonderful organizations, committed to a common vision statement that when a child and family start transitional kindergarten or kindergarten, they will have the skills they need to succeed.

This partnership between the Brentwood Library, Head Start, Raising a Reader, Village Community Resource Center, Child Care Council, Contra Costa County Employment and Human Services, the Office of Early Literacy from the Contra Costa Library, REading ADvantage, and the Brentwood Union School District is totally focused on supporting Brentwood families and children from age 0-5.

There are actually some very simple and inexpensive (or free) things families can do to dramatically increase their child’s school readiness.

Our first event is ‘Parent Power! Learn the ABC’s of Early Literacy, and Help Your Child Succeed.’ This event will take place on Thursday, Jan. 15, at the Brentwood Community Center, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. REadingADvantage, Inc., the Brentwood Library and Delta First 5, will give presentations to parents describing the benefits of reading to children as early as infancy and how it impacts early literacy.

This is an event from which every family with a child under five years can benefit. Please join us as we kick off the first of what we hope to be many events that support our youngest Brentwood residents.