By Kim Underwood
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools
APRIL 19, 2017 – Parades, parents becoming a “Kid for a Day,” working on an outdoor garden, and visits from a giant frog will be among the fun activities celebrating the Week of the Young Child from April 24 through April 28.
“It’s all about celebrating young children, their families and the educators who support them,” said Eva Phillips, the school system’s Program Manager for Ready Schools. “It is about building awareness of the importance of the early years in children’s lives.”
The week is part of a national effort to celebrate young children, and Mayor Allen Joines and the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education have proclaimed April 24 through April 28 as the Week of the Young Child. On Monday, the week will kick off with a program at Old Town Elementary School.
The week, which focuses on children from birth through age 8, was first organized in 1971 by the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Although the week has been celebrated informally in Forsyth County over the years, this is the first year that officials with the school system and such other local organizations as Family Services and Smart Start have joined together for the celebration. As it happens, Smart Start is also having a professional development conference in Winston-Salem on Saturday.
Throughout the week, schools and child-care centers will be celebrating with various activities. Several events are planned at Family Services’ Head Start locations, and Ready Freddy, a friendly frog who encourages everyone to be ready for and excited about kindergarten will be visiting pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classrooms across the district.
On her Cable 2 show, Superintendent Beverly Emory will talk about some of the ways that people have been working to support young children. That episode of "2Day With Dr. Beverly Emory" will first appear on Thursday and continue airing throughout May.
At Cash Elementary School, Vickie Richardson, who is a Power of K teacher leader, has invited parents to join their kindergarten students on Tuesday as a “Kid for a Day” to experience how students learn through play.
“I am hoping that the parents will have a better understanding of the importance of play in the kindergarten classroom,” Richardson said. “Parents will have choices between blocks, painting, art, dramatic play, math or puzzles or camping.”
“Each play center has a rationale plus a goal for learning. In today's competitive world, it is essential students develop multiple skills. At 5 and 6 there is no better avenue to learn these skills than through developmentally appropriate/intentional play. For instance, playing in the block center, students are learning to use their imaginations, test different ideas, experiment with balance and develop gross/fine motor skills. In the art center students are able to build his/her individuality, solve problems as well as develop creativity.”
“In addition, any time we can spend time with parents it is an opportunity to continue to build those relationships. A strong partnership is critical!”
At Caleb’s Creek Elementary, teachers Heather Robbins and Deeann Kidd have invited families to join them for "Working Together Wednesday," an after-school event in which everyone will continue the "make-over" of the school’s existing playground into a more natural, open-ended outdoor classroom where interest areas (or centers) are included for play. These areas include Art, Trucks, Garden, Reading, Mud Kitchen, Loose Parts (construction), Music and Active Play.
“We have relied heavily on our families to assist in this project and have built a sense of community while working alongside one another,” Robbins said. “Learning takes place outdoors that doesn't occur indoors. It is important, then, that outdoor environments be as richly and thoughtfully equipped as indoor ones.”
“The playground is used by our pre-k and kindergarten classes which includes children between 4 and 6 years old. The addition of natural materials and elements allows our curriculum to spill over into the outdoors. All areas of development are enhanced. Math and problem solving skills are facilitated as children use loose parts to build pulleys, bridges, cities, etc. Communication and literacy skills are developed as children create in the mud kitchen and take orders, etc. A deeper understanding of science, eco-systems and natural habitats is fostered as the children observe, hypothesize and interact in nature.”
One purpose for an increased focus this year, Phillips said, is to recognize how much more local organizations have been doing for young children in recent years.
The Ready Freddy transition to kindergarten program is a joint effort led by Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools and the Forsyth Promise Kindergarten Readiness Collaborative Action Network.
Through its Great Expectation Initiative, the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust is working to ensure that children in Forsyth County reach developmentally appropriate milestones in their first five years, enter kindergarten ready to learn and leave prepared to be successful in the coming years.
The Trust pledged $30 to $40 million dollars over 10 to 15 years to improve early childhood development. It is working with other community organizations, and seeking input from parents about what their children need to be successful to achieve those goals.
“It’s exciting to see the school district leading Week of the Young Child activities because it shows the school system’s commitment to Forsyth County’s youngest children,” said Joe Crocker, the director of Kate B. Reynolds’ Poor and Needy Division.
“We all know how important the early years are to ensuring our children have long-term success in school and life. At the end of the 2015 school year, only 56 percent of Forsyth County students were considered proficient in third-grade reading. And there are fewer Hispanic students reading at grade level than in other parts of North Carolina. This is something we need to change.”
“There’s a lot of exciting work—such as Project Impact, Great Expectations, the Peer Project, Forsyth Promise, to name a few – underway in our community to improve early childhood education for the children we serve, as well as to support the teachers, families and caregivers who are guiding our children. The Trust is encouraged by the community momentum around early childhood education and is proud to be a part of this critical work.”
Project Impact was established in the spring of 2016 with the goal of providing $45 million over six years to provide educational opportunities for students who may not have had experiences that would help them prepare for kindergarten by attending Head Start or pre-kindergarten programs.
At its heart, Project Impact is about closing the gap in achievement between children who haven’t had the benefit of early learning experiences and those who have. Earlier this year, Victoria Fulton joined the school system as the new program manager for Project Impact.
Working through The Winston-Salem Foundation, local business leaders have already committed $22 million to the project’s $45 million goal. The project launched this past summer with Pathway to K enrichment camps at 10 elementary schools and will offer the program again this coming summer to children who have had no previous pre-school experience before they enter kindergarten in the fall.
The Peer Project is a 5-year, $2.3 million program created to support development opportunities for all employees that will enrich the classroom experience and boost student achievement.
“Coming together to meet the needs of the youngest members of our society is paramount!” Robbins said. “This is what the Week of the Young Child is all about – doing things for children and recognizing that children are important and deserve quality, developmentally appropriate learning environments – indoors and outdoors!”