With a $1.5 million Kellogg Foundation grant, the University of
Chicago Charter School is forging a collaboration with the Ounce of
Prevention Fund’s Educare Center to offer preschoolers a seamless path
into regular schooling.
With a $1.5 million W.K. Kellogg Foundation grant, the University of Chicago Charter School is forging a collaboration with the Ounce of Prevention Fund’s Educare Center to offer preschoolers a seamless path into regular schooling.
The partnership would offer children from Educare’s preschool program automatic admission into one of the U of C’s charter campuses. The goal is “a model of public education that starts at birth,” says Linda Wing, director of schools and community engagement at the university’s Urban Education Institute.
For the charter schools, the collaboration offers the allure of getting incoming students who have a head start on their education.
Wing has already begun to hold meetings with parents to discuss the concept. The focus of the conversations, she says, is how public schooling that begins at birth would support them in passing on their culture and values. At the first meeting this past December, parents came up with one significant suggestion: Figure out how to include siblings, who are often involved in taking care of young children, in the model.
The partnership includes all four charter campuses. But the initial work is focusing on Donoghue Elementary in Oakland, which opened in 2005, and North Kenwood/Oakland Elementary in Kenwood, which opened in 1998. Together, the two campuses serve about 650 students. of families from the charters will be
“We are looking for children of (charter) families to enter the Educare program starting at birth, and for children at Educare to enter our kindergarten program,” Wing says.
When Donoghue opened, a similar arrangement was in place with a community group that offered a preschool program inside the school, Wing explains. Children were admitted by lottery into the preschool and then automatically to Donoghue at age 3. The charter school’s arrangement with Educare may work the same way.
But as a federally funded Head Start program the Educare Center in Grand Boulevard won’t change its entrance criteria, says Ounce of Prevention Fund Executive Director Diana Rauner. Low-income and at-risk students, such as those with single or teen parents, have priority for admission.
Information from the Ounce of Prevention Fund’s Educare Follow-up Study – currently in its fourth year of tracking how graduates of the birth-to-five Educare Center do once they enter elementary school – has shown that the transition from preschool to kindergarten is particularly stressful for parents with few resources.
The partnership will aim to smooth that transition, Rauner says, building on research showing that parental involvement and students’ feelings of belonging lead to positive educational outcomes.
Rauner hopes that funneling children straight into one of the charter campuses will allow parents and students to build on the “feelings of safety and attachment to school” that they developed at Educare.
“It’s a change of culture, personnel, and place,” Rauner says. “We shouldn’t be putting children in a situation where they have to do all the navigating.”
For example, Rauner says, Educare and the charter school campuses could use the same literacy program at both sites, or give pre-kindergarten students experience interacting in the larger groups they will be part of in school as they get older.
This summer, work groups of Educare and charter teachers began meeting to work on aligning educational practices.
Other components of the collaboration include:
*The Urban Education Institute’s School Innovation Incubator. First held this summer at the Illinois Institute of Technology, this project provides teams of teachers or social workers (with at least one representative from each charter campus) with special training on program and problem-solving. In summer 2009, participants tackled parent engagement and transition from 5th grade to middle school. Eventually, Wing says, the incubator may also be open to Educare instructors.
*Optional extended-day, extended-week, and extended-year programming. The U of C Charter School hopes to offer these to all of its students.
Educare provides students up to five years of education before they enter kindergarten.
An evaluation by the Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina found that children from Educare who started the program in their first two years of life developed vocabularies and school-readiness scores that are at or above the national average.
“They will know more and be able to do more,” Wing says. “They should be able to soar.”