The Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship awards annual seed grants to fund the launch or early stage growth of a Wesleyan-connected social enterprise, project, program, or venture. This year’s winners are Walking Elephants Home, Kindergarten Kickstart, and T.R.A.P. House. Each grantee reports back with blog posts and photos. Here is the first report from Stephanie Blumenstock ’16, writing with updates from Kindergarten Kickstart. The Kickstart team also includes Meg Narwold ’16, Natalie May ’18, and Professor Anna Shusterman.
This past semester has been an eventful one for Kindergarten Kickstart and we can’t wait for this summer. As Kickstart moves into its 5th year of operation, we feel so fortunate to have gotten a Seed Grant to allow us to move beyond our original community non-profit model and launch Kickstart 2.0, an enterprise with the potential to create a ripple of impact in the field of education beyond Middletown. Kindergarten Kickstart 2.0, through collaborations between Wesleyan students and faculty, Middletown community members (including educators and non-profit workers), and academic researchers, will seek to both (1) help prepare children in Middletown with little or no prior preschool experience for kindergarten through a high-quality, low-cost program and (2) bridge the research-to-practice gap in education. Here’s a snapshot of what we, along with our faculty advisor Anna Shusterman, have done so far for the 2016 Kickstart program:
- Finalized dates and sites: Kickstart will run from July 5 – August 5, with one classroom at Farm Hill School and one at Bielefield School (both elementary schools in Middletown).
- Recruited students: With the help of our collaborators from Wesleyan’s Cognitive Development Lab and Middletown’s Family Resource Center, we reached out to eligible families in Middletown with children entering kindergarten in the fall, and were met with lots of enthusiasm from parents. We expect that both classrooms will be full, with 15 children in each.
- Hired teachers: Stephanie and Natalie will return as Kickstart teachers, and we have 4 amazing new teachers on board, each with experience in developmental psychology and working with children and full of ideas about how to make Kickstart the best it can be. At the end of the semester, the teachers briefly observed both a preschool and kindergarten classroom, in order to get ideas for the Kickstart classroom and get a better idea of the school environment we’ll be preparing our students for. We will also work with two Middletown-based certified teachers (one of whom taught with Kickstart last year!). Each classroom will be staffed by 3 Wesleyan teachers and 1 certified teacher.
- Continued relationships with our research collaborators: This summer, we will continue to work with our research collaborators from last year, testing interventions (i.e., fun educational games) that target both executive function and socio-emotional skills. We will also use the math intervention that has been developed in Anna’s own lab over the past several years.
- Piloting our own literacy intervention: Beginning during our training period in late June and continuing throughout the summer, Kickstart teachers will design a new literacy intervention and begin to implement it in our classrooms. This process will include researching pre-existing literacy interventions and deciding which aspects of them we want to incorporate into our own, creating the materials themselves (including picture books, visual aids, board games, etc.), and trying them out during Kickstart to see how our students react to and learn from them. Ideally, we will have a set of finished materials by the end of the summer that can be shared with teachers at other preschool programs (although Kickstart teachers in 2017 and beyond can continue to refine them!).
- Increasing Wesleyan student-teachers’ contact with our research collaborators: While last year, most of the communication with our research collaborators was done through our faculty advisor, this summer, Wesleyan student-teachers will be in consistent contact with our collaborators, giving them feedback about how the interventions are working in the classroom and brainstorming suggestions for improvement. Currently, one of the Kickstart teachers is researching a new and improved assessment we can use to evaluate the impact of the socio-emotional intervention on our students.
- Standardizing our training and curriculum materials: In Kickstart’s 4 years of existence, we have used (and produced) tons of documents with information on the psychology and education research that guides our program, as well as many lesson plans and general classroom descriptions. By the end of the summer, we’d like to have put together one synthesized training curriculum manual with all of the information someone would need to know about Kickstart prior to working in a Kickstart classroom. This manual can then be sent to other universities where faculty members have expressed interest in starting a program like Kickstart, making it easier for Kickstart to take root in other locations.
- Updating our website: As we look to expand Kickstart in the near future, both through scaling our model to other universities and connecting with more research collaborators, revamping our website to make it more informative and visually appealing will be helpful. We are also working with a graphic designer to design a new logo!
- Shifting our business model: Thus far, Kickstart has depended on philanthropy (and we are so grateful to all of the funders who have made the program possible thus far!). However, our major long-term goal is to develop a self-sustaining financial model, through our partnerships with outside researchers and through selling our own materials. Thanks to the Seed Grant, we will begin to pivot towards this goal this summer!
Overall, we are in good shape for the launch of Kickstart 2.0, and we are so excited to work with our research collaborators, Middletown partners, and the Patricelli Center this summer!