Having a solid kindergarten transition plan in place can be beneficial to not only an incoming kindergarten student, but also parents, teachers and school staff members.
Developing that plan is easier thanks to partnerships between state agencies, including the Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE), communities, organizations and Kansas school districts.
“We know even positive changes can be challenging,” said Jennifer Adhima, executive director of the Kansas Head Start Association. “The transition to kindergarten doesn’t always go smoothly. To ensure successful transitions, it’s important to have school connection across four different points – family and school to foster family collaboration and engagement with school; child and school to provide children with familiar stable relationships and classroom experiences; program and school to align practices, environments and information between settings; and community and school to create a network of understanding and support around kindergarten transitions. We know now that when we do these things well, we can see reduced social-emotional stress for both children and their parents, increased family involvement in the school and improved academic growth over the course of kindergarten and beyond.”
In the fall of 2020, the Kansas Head Start Collaboration Office and the Kansas Head Start Association invited the KSDE Early Childhood team and other Kansas early childhood partners to host a Kindergarten Readiness Summit to expand and enhance relationships between all early childhood programs and school districts in order to help support kindergarten readiness.
During the virtual summit on Nov. 13, 2020, community teams came together to develop kindergarten transition plans, said Kim Kennedy, director of the Head Start Collaboration Office for the Kansas Department of Children and Families.
There was ongoing support for the community teams and funding through subgrants for continued development of kindergarten transition plans.
“That event kicked off a year when those community teams could tap into technical assistance provided by the state, some regular opportunities for people to come together with other communities and then staffed facilitators to support community teams,” said Amanda Petersen, director of KSDE’s Early Childhood team.
During the KSDE Great Ideas in Education Conference: Unfinished Learning, which took place virtually Monday, Nov. 15, through Thursday, Nov. 18, four of the kindergarten transitions team leaders shared their successes, challenges and advice during the “Building Successful Kindergarten Transition Experiences: Examples From Kansas Communities” breakout session.
Cassandra Davis, principal of the Winfield Early Learning Center (WELC) shared information on the Winfield Kindergarten Transition Project.
The group co-wrote and received a $25,000 Kindergarten Readiness Quality Subgrant, which were funded by the Preschool Development Grant, Birth Through 5, Davis said.
These one-year subgrants are used to help community teams working to improve kindergarten readiness. Subgrants are part of the “All in for Kansas Kids” strategic plan to strengthen early childhood in Kansas. Thirteen communities have been awarded Kindergarten Readiness Quality Subgrants during the past two years. A request for proposal for year three subgrants is expected to be released in March 2022. Stakeholders can visit https://kschildrenscabinet.org/all-in-for-kansas-kids/get-involved/ to sign up for regular email updates.
The grant has allowed all preschool teachers in Cowley County and a majority of the kindergarten teachers to receive training in Conscious Discipline. Parent Nights for Conscious Discipline also were funded as part of the grant.
Amy Gottschamer, owner and executive director of Googols of Learning Child Development Center in Lawrence, spoke about the Lawrence Kindergarten Transition Team.
Lawrence also received a $25,000 subgrant, which has allowed the group to purchase Ages & Stages Questionnaires® (ASQ®) kits and trainings; hire a part-time person to serve as a “kindergarten ambassador;” host a kindergarten transition information night for parents/caregivers; and create a webpage and QR code to help families find useful information needed for a successful transition.
Megan Cook, director of Early Childhood/Successful Beginnings Head Start with Kansas City USD 500, discussed the Wyandotte County Kindergarten Transition Team. The Wyandotte team has received two subgrants, each for $25,000.
The Wyandotte team meets monthly to collaborate, Cook said. With the funding, the group has focused on using a common screening tool, the (ASQ®-3) and Ages & Stages Questionnaires®: Social-Emotional, Second Edition (ASQ®:SE-2), to identify children in the community who may need additional assistance to be ready for kindergarten.
The funding also has allowed Wyandotte to purchase materials to create kindergarten readiness kits that were disseminated to all 4-year-old students in the area. The kits included magnetic letter and numbers, along with fine motor activities, play dough and more, Cook said. The plan is to create a different kit quarterly to aid children in preparing for kindergarten.
Lisa Schmidt, executive director of the Women’s Community Y Child Development Center, shared information and the accomplishments of the Leavenworth County Kindergarten Transition Team. The group is a first-time recipient of the subgrant. The funds have been used to train community partners, parents and a consultant about autism; provide training to 20 home- and center-based child care providers in Leavenworth County on the ASQ® screening tool; and offer kindergarten roundup.
Transition team leaders said they have addressed challenges along the way.
“One of them was getting full representation at the table,” Gottschamer said. “We struggled to get participation from families and kindergarten teachers.”
To get more parents involved, the group reached out to providers for parent referrals, Gottschamer said. The group’s “kindergarten ambassador” encourages parents to take a larger role on the team while speaking with families, too. The team also hopes to add one or two kindergarten classroom teachers in the spring.
Cook, who serves on the Wyandotte County Kindergarten Transition Team, said hiring a consultant who can coordinate things for the team was a great idea. The consultant can coordinate meetings and speak with stakeholders in the community.
“She serves as the conduit that brings information back to people and the team,” Cook said. “That has been really helpful to us.”
Cook also recommended recruiting key decision makers for the transition team, especially from the school district.
“Get all stakeholders together and develop a common goal,” she said. “Include everyone in the community. Make sure people are invested. That really made a difference and kept people engaged. We still have a lot of active engagement even after a year.”
During the breakout session, the presenters also discussed the Kindergarten Transitions Toolkit developed by the Kansas Early Childhood Recommendations Panel. The Kansas Children’s Cabinet approved the toolkit in December 2020. The toolkit is designed to be used as a starting point by communities to adopt or adapt as needed.
Components of the toolkit are editable and include a memorandum of understanding template that lists the purpose, scope of work and community partners involved; activity milestones; data sharing examples; potential partner examples; a work plan template document; and an email template that can be used to help disseminate the toolkit.
Transition plans are helpful to students because it helps them become familiar with the people, places and routines they will have, said Natalie McClane, an education program consultant on KSDE’s Early Childhood team. It helps parents connect with the teachers and school and can help put them at ease about sending their student to school.
“The school benefits because kindergarten teachers are able to see where the students are starting from, and it helps them to better individualize for each student,” McClane said. “It also allows them to connect with families in a positive way before the children are even in their classrooms. Communities benefit as consistent services are offered through their community programs and yields long-term outcomes for children. Healthy development of the children in the community is promoted through transition planning. It can also strengthen positive relationships and engagement, as well as encourage community-driven planning.”
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