In the last two years, students entering kindergarten in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools have been more prepared.
The district has implemented a new program, Pathway to K, to get students ready for kindergarten. It also has more pre-K classrooms, provided by funding from Project Impact, a community initiative that gives money to schools to try to close the achievement gap. Pathway to K is a three-week program to help get students ready for kindergarten.
In 2016, Project Impact’s Pathway to K program served 259 students at 10 locations. This year, the number of students decreased to 149 students at seven locations, said Victoria Fulton, program manager of Project Impact for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools. However, the decreased enrollment corresponds with the increased number of pre-K classrooms Project Impact helped start.
The agency added six pre-K classrooms in 2016 and another eight in 2017, so an additional 229 students were able to go, Fulton said. Pathway to K is designed as a program for students who were wait-listed to get into pre-K.
Since starting the program, students have shown significant gains in the five areas they’re measured in, according to data recorded by the teachers. That includes letter naming; book orientation, in which a child can hold a book properly and flip through the pages one at a time; self-selected activities/purposeful choices, in which a student can make their own decision even with interruptions; grip and manipulation, which is a child’s fine motor skills; and object counting.
The area that showed the biggest growth both years was book orientation, according to data from Project Impact. In 2016 there was a 26 percent increase of students who were capable of the skill after completing Pathway to K, to 87 percent proficiency. In 2017, there was a 45 percent increase, to 88 percent proficiency.
Despite making gains of at least 14 percent in every area both years, there’s one fact that still stands out: Some students are still entering kindergarten behind for reading.
Letter naming increased both years, up to 49 percent proficiency in 2016 and 47 percent proficiency in 2017. However, it was the skill students had the hardest time grasping. Reading is an area Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools’ students lag in third grade state test scores.
Project Impact hopes to boost students following kindergarten with a new program that will be rolled out during the summer of 2018: Pathway to 1. The agency gave an approximately $309,000 grant to Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools for this program to help with first grade readiness, which was approved at the board meeting Tuesday night.
“Pathway to 1 is to help combat summer slide and to assist kids with the new academic expectations for first grade,” Fulton said. “It’s a huge year developmentally and academically.”
Vanessa Osborne, the summer Pathway to K director, said details of the new program are still being determined.
“We haven’t made any criteria yet,” she said of who will be in the program.
However, recommendations from teachers and student test data will likely play a role in who will receive invitations to participate.
“We’ll try to pull in as many STEM activities as we can,” Osborne said.
While teachers and volunteers work diligently with students in Pathway to K to help them succeed, Fulton said parents also play an important role in students’ success. Parents received specific, 15-minute lessons to take home with them to work with their child. At the end of the program, they received a packet of lessons, so they could continue to work until school started.
“I think most parents worked with their kids,” Fulton said. “At the start of the program, most parents thought their kids were ready for kindergarten. And at the end, they realized their kids had a deficit of skills.”
She said one of the most important skills is something that can’t be captured in testing: Preparing students for the classroom.
“You can’t capture with domains having a comfort level of being in school and how it works,” Fulton said. “Pathway to K teaches kids how to be in a classroom, from lining up to eating meals together. This takes the fear out of it.”