Editor’s note: Betsy Vaughn is the District 6 representative for the Lee County School Board. The views expressed here and in all editorials are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Waterman Broadcasting or NBC2.
The Strategic Plan for the Lee County School District, Envision 2030, provides a blueprint for the next decade to ensure that every student achieves not only academic success, but social-emotional achievement. . A key pillar of the plan is the commitment to Enhancing Kindergarten Readiness. Enhancing children’s readiness to learn is an essential foundation for all that follows.
For the 2019-2020 school year, only 41% of SDLC students were identified as “kindergarten ready” (as measured by a score of 500 or higher on the Florida Early Learning Assessment). This kindergarten readiness rate is the lowest of the forty largest school districts in the state. One contributing factor to this rate is that of Florida’s ten largest counties, Lee County has the second highest rate of child poverty. The impact of early childhood education can be especially strong for disadvantaged children who may have additional challenges to face in the coming school years.
Envision 2030 aims to increase local enrollment in Florida’s Voluntary Early Childhood Education Program (VPK), a free education program that prepares 4-year-olds for kindergarten. SDLC currently serves pre-kindergarten children at eighteen County VPK centers and partners with five additional Preferred VPK Providers. Envision 2030’s short-term goal is to increase PreK capacity by 200 seats by the end of Fiscal Year 21 and raise kindergarten readiness rate to 50%. By 2030, the District hopes to have two-thirds of kindergarten students participating in the District’s associated PreK programs.
But Envision 2030’s laudable goals are only part of the work ahead to give Lee County children the tools they need to succeed in life. Although the District is looking for opportunities to expand its high-quality early childhood education programs, this effort “will take the village” to achieve. The district currently serves 77 children in the Early Head Start program (ages 0 to 30 months). Early Head Start, like Head Start, is a free, federally funded program designed to promote school readiness for children from low-income families. The program is particularly effective because it supports parents in their role as children’s first teachers. However, due to funding shortfalls, Lee County enrollment reflects only a small fraction of the local children eligible for the program. Unfortunately, there are limited options for this group of children if they cannot access developmental enrichment elsewhere.
A child’s brain reaches 90% of its growth rate by the age of five. Children who face adversity during the first few years of life are more at risk for the lifelong effects of toxic stress. Publicly funded investment in early childhood education programs creates upward mobility through opportunity rather than through mildly successful programs later in life. Access to books, talk, singing, and storytelling provide rich language experiences that enhance vocabulary development (vocabulary gaps begin as early as 18 months). Social skills (the ability to create and maintain meaningful relationships) and positive emotional development (the ability to express, recognize, and manage emotions) also develop during this time. Of course, healthy kids – those with proper medical care and nutrition – are more equipped to learn.
An investment in high-quality early education programs, especially for children who do not yet qualify, will pay dividends over many years. SDLC is making significant progress with Envision 2030’s expansion of VPK. It’s time for local and state governments to step up and provide enough funding to serve disadvantaged children and their families. of the children. School can’t do it alone!
School Board Member, District 6
https://nbc-2.com/news/opinion/2020/11/13/editorial-school-districts-strategic-plan-is-a-solid-start-to-improving-student-achievement/ Editorial: The district’s strategic plan is a solid start to improving student achievement