All In: Preparing Our Children to Be Successful
School readiness and ready to learn. Quite often, these two concepts are used interchangeably. While they are closely related concepts, there are important differences. It is critical to understand each of these concepts so that we increase the likelihood that our students are both school ready and ready to learn.
School readiness refers to skills and abilities young children need to transition into school and be successful.
As noted in the Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development,
“Important dimensions of school readiness include physical, motor, linguistic, cognitive, social and emotional development, as well as attitudes toward learning and general knowledge.”
When children enter school with these abilities, they are more likely to be successful throughout their school years, graduating ready for college and career.
The article continues by saying,
“Appropriate nutrition, accessible health care, parents as children’s first teachers, and the availability of quality preschool and early education programs have been identified as critical conditions that support school readiness.”
We are fortunate in Montgomery County to have engaged parents and multiple public and private agencies that support young children’s school readiness. Examples of these include Head Start, private and public early childhood education programs, infant-toddler programs and the Department of Health and Human Services.
Montgomery County Public Schools’ (MCPS) preschool programs also improve school readiness. Currently, MCPS’ preschool programs serve about 4,500 of the 12,000 4-year-olds living in the county. If we wish to fully respond to the needs of our children and families, we must greatly expand our services for all 4-year-olds who need them and for all families who request them.
The more ready for school our students are when they enter kindergarten, the more they will benefit from our academic program.
Ready to Learn
The second concept—ready to learn—is just as important. It focuses on the physical, social and psychological health of the student.
According to the National Association of School Psychologists in the publication, Ready to Learn, Empowered to Teach,
“All children and youth must be ready to learn in order to achieve their best in school and to graduate prepared for college or a career. This preparation requires a public education infrastructure that empowers teachers to teach and prioritizes investments to ensure that schools effectively address the learning, behavioral, social–emotional, and mental health needs of students. When not met, those needs can create barriers to achievement. Furthermore, promoting success and reducing barriers to learning requires sustained access to a comprehensive and rigorous curriculum, high-quality instruction, and comprehensive learning supports within safe and respectful learning environments.”
In short, when children are hungry or homeless, they come to school less ready to learn. When students face problems of addiction or are dealing with stresses at home or in their communities, their ability to learn in school is diminished. As a school system we must take steps to remove these barriers to learning so our students can take full advantage of our robust curriculum and expert instruction.
We recently conducted an audit of our prevention and early intervention services. On Jan. 9, 2018, we presented the results of this audit to the Board of Education. The audit showed that while there are many effective services available, there is great variability among schools. We need to be more systematic in what we make available to students by developing parameters regarding the programs we offer, while respecting the cultural and unique interests of individual schools and communities.
In my budget recommendation for next year, I included full-time counselors in all elementary schools, as well as a change in how we allocate psychologist services to schools (by enrollment rather than by school). We also plan to include physical, social and psychological well-being as a component of school improvement plans.
The audit gave us a launching pad for identifying gaps and developing consistent ways to offer services so there is a threshold of services available to all students. We will be more systematic in the way we provide prevention services for all students, intervention activities for students who are considered at-risk for academic or behavioral difficulties, and intensive activities for the small number of students who are referred for specific academic, behavioral or emotional concerns.
In addition to the programs and supports we can provide as a district, we must also put systems in place so we can routinely serve as a bridge for students to services offered by other agencies, non-profits and providers in the community. Leveraging both internal and external resources in this effort will help ensure every student, regardless of their background, is ready to learn.
By removing barriers to learning, we can promote school readiness and help each student come to school every day ready to learn. We can then achieve our core purpose of preparing all students to thrive in their futures.