Early Start is a full day, three-week summer program for pre-kindergarten students at Title 1 schools. Transportation, breakfast, and lunch are provided for participants. These students have demonstrated academic need (via screening) and have had no exposure to a preschool setting.
Early Start began in 2013 with 19 classes; in 2015, there were 32 classes and 430 students who attended. The intention is to expand the program to all 44 Title 1 schools for 2016. Each classroom has fifteen students, one teacher, and one teacher assistant. The program is funded by Title 1 district funds.
There are three focus areas during the experience. The first, early literacy and kindergarten readiness activities, include exposure to print concepts. These include the direction in which text is read (in English, from left to right), the front and back of a book, individual letters, and words.
The second focus area includes transitioning, routines, and structures. These include being together with a group of other children, that a classroom has routines and rules, and that a school has a schedule that is followed. For students who have had little or no preschool experience, a school and classroom are another world to inhabit. Exposure to the setting can help ease the transition to the new environment.
The third focus area is parent connections. This includes events, books, and materials for parents. There are weekly packets for families to complete together.
Cathy Moore, Deputy Superintendent, noted that “this is the last option to catch them for a few weeks” prior to the start of school in kindergarten.
Pre and Post Early Start testing shows that students make gains on print concepts and number knowledge. Though students who began the program in 2013 are now in second grade, the district has not tracked students recently to determine lasting effects of the program. Moore acknowledged a need to do this work.