Thursday, April 19, 2012

Early Childhood Linkages with Community Schools: The Perfect Fit with Common Core Standards

As new standards for K-12 instruction are rolled out across the country, many early childhood educators and their input are being left out of the conversation. Rather than being a part of the formation of the Common Core standards, they are only recipients.

As evident in recent coverage in EdWeek, early childhood practitioners are playing catch up with these new standards. These standards, which are being implemented in 46 states and the District of Columbia, place emphasis on academic rigor to prepare students for college and career. This laser-like focus to academic structure runs counter to the importance of play and social development in a young toddler’s life.

Instead of developing these standards in concert with the early education practices, those that know the needs of young children best are being forced to round pegs into square holes.

Fortunately, some early childhood folks are making sure that they are in fact a part of the conversations. In Evansville, Ind., you would find these providers at the ‘table’ with the school district (Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation)

EVSC is being proactive and ensuring that the early childhood community is not only represented, but is helping make decisions in aligning community school early childhood efforts to the Common Core.

The EVSC is the third largest urban school district in Indiana. EVSC is embracing the Common Core Standards in order to prepare our students for life long success both in the educational system and the real world. The Standards come at the perfect time for EVSC, as we are building a high quality Early Childhood Program. Our school district and early childhood community are poised to support the implementation of the Common Core.

Best practices in early childhood education can inform K-12 instruction in order to achieve the relevancy and rigor of the Common Core. Development of curricula for early childhood programs is based on the importance of the depth of understanding, the application of knowledge and the opportunity to explore and experience the ‘real world’. Early childhood researchers and teachers know that hands on experiences, research, inquiry and investigation based on children’s interests are the most effective and robust ways to engage learners. The focus on the depth of learning versus the breadth of learning is intentional and informed. The premise that progressive and effective learning is based on the quality of the relationships among students, and between students and teachers and within the community is the foundation of the process. The perspective that students and teachers learn together fosters a respectful, trusting and engaging learning environment in high quality early childhood programs.

Community schools and early childhood programs are focused on the need for this family engagement, community involvement and real world engaging experiences to enhance academic success by looking at the whole child.

EVSC’s school/community approach serves as a catalyst and vehicle to foster those essential trusting relationships among families, service providers, community partners and teachers. These relationships are the infrastructure that enables our community to implement best practices and provide the systemic change and opportunity to learn together in order to create a seamless 0-8 system that we are developing.

Our work in the Mind in the Making project is a perfect opportunity to build on the current early childhood alignment and strengthen instructional strategies in elementary schools, reinforce priorities in the mental health services, and encourage relevant course work for future teachers via higher education.

The early childhood initiatives in Evansville are effectively aligned and scaffold through the work of EVSC Community Schools, 4C of Southern Indiana, Inc. (local child care resource and referral agency), Early Childhood Development Coalition and The Welborn Baptist Foundation.

This is an exciting time for educators at all levels. We have an opportunity to immerse ourselves in each other’s strategies to reflect upon the direction we are going. Most importantly, we have an opportunity to look in the mirror and rise to the occasion for each other and for the future success of our most precious resource - our children. The time has come to focus on conversation, not silence, in the classroom, to embrace creativity and individual interests and to understand that growing together, both students and teachers, makes learning purposeful and fun. It will take each one of us to be committed to reach for the highest hanging fruit in the educational process. The Common Core and best practices in early childhood education can serve as our catalysts.

Erin Ramsey is Director of Early Childhood for the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation

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