PCSE Seed Grants in Action: Report #2 from Kindergarten Kickstart

Check out Kindergarten Kickstart’s promotional video.

It has been a whirlwind of a summer at Kindergarten Kickstart, both in our classrooms at Farm Hill and Bielefield and in the Wesleyan lab. Between expanding our range of academic interventions and increasing our outreach to 32 students, we have really had our hands full! Take a look at what we have accomplished this summer and what we are working on as part of launching Kickstart 2.0, a robust and financially sustainable research-to-practice early childhood and kindergarten readiness program:

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  1. Enriched professional development: We piloted a longer training period for teachers this year. As teacher-researcher-entrepreneurs we are in a very unique position, and it was important to ensure that we had the latest information about child development and research interventions. Our two weeks of training featured several guests to build our knowledge base and team ability:
  • Barbara Stern, a lead educational consultant to ACES, trained us in the Circle of Security, a theory-based intervention that is used to help teachers, parents, and social workers promote healthy attachments with children that allow them to learn, grow, and succeed;
  • a session led by one of our research collaborators, Shauna Tominey, on how to use RULER, a socio-emotional curriculum developed at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence;
  • a discussion with Izzi Greenberg, the Executive Director of the Middlesex Coalition for Children, and Cathy Lechowicz, the Director of the Jewett Center for Community Partnerships at Wesleyan University, about the specific needs of Middletown’s communities and the ways that we can build partnerships with families that value their needs and experiences as well as create connections with local institutions to expand our outreach and create a lasting impact in this area;
  • a series of sessions with Kristin Berry, a life coach and team building mentor, who facilitated activities and discussions about leadership, the complementary strengths and weaknesses of team members, effective feedback loops, and conflict management. We were so grateful for the opportunity to really bond with each other and strengthen our team by working together throughout these sessions. This training allowed us to rely on each other throughout the challenging weeks ahead and be proactive in creating the most positive, enriching environment for the children in our program.

In addition to bringing in outside expertise, we have been working to preserve and document our own experiences. Kickstart 2.0 is all about creating a sustainable model, and as a part of that we were able to use our extended training period to look through and reorganize all of our materials from past years of Kickstart into a revamped, easily accessible archive. Additionally, we revisited the template for a Kickstart teaching manual developed by past students, and will be building on it in the coming year to add information from our new curriculum and behavioral management trainings. Ultimately, we hope to produce a training manual for student leaders that will ensure the continuity and longevity of Kickstart in Middletown and allow the quality of our program to be replicable when scaled to other sites.

  1. Expanded interventions: In addition to learning some new RULER tools from Shauna for teaching children how to talk about, regulate, and healthily express their own emotions, we are proud to say that we partnered with Growing Great Schools (GGS), an organization that provides comprehensive food and environmental education to children and their communities through innovative gardening and cooking lessons. GGS piloted its preschool curriculum in our classrooms this summer, and our children had the opportunity to learn all about healthy eating and make their own delicious snacks with Chef Lindsay every week. We developed a nutritional assessment for their program to assess the effectiveness of their curricula and, as a part of our partnership, we will be providing them with detailed feedback and post-test data to evaluate the children’s nutritional literacy.  
  1. Testing and preparing math curriculum for production: In the summer of 2015, we began tokindergarten kickstart 2 pilot our math curriculum, a series of fun, developmentally appropriate math games designed by Wesleyan students in the Cognitive Development Lab. This year, we were able to train all of the teachers in these games and run them in the classrooms as well as develop variations on the games to adapt for different students’ needs. Our next goal is to produce a polished curriculum that can be marketed to schools and educational programs. We are currently in the planning stages of creating mass-produced versions of our original games and curriculum booklet as we partner with Wesleyan’s machine shop to develop some more robust prototypes.
  1. Laying the groundwork for a literacy intervention: We are now working to develop and pilot a literacy intervention that is similar to our math curriculum: a series of fun games and activities for preschoolers that target specific developmentally appropriate literacy skills. This summer we have brainstormed a set of criteria for the new intervention, consulted with Drs. Jill and Peter de Villiers, both professors at Smith College and experts on early language acquisition, and developed and tested a couple of the games in our classrooms. We are looking forward to creating a full set of activities that can be refined and used next summer.
  2. Expanding our community network: This year, we bolstered our kindergarten kickstart 3work with Kickstart families by piloting daily verbal reports at pick-up about each child’s day, as well as letters and phone calls home to help create a strong network of communication for children facing more challenges. Our two parent engagement fellows, Tracy Chapman and Merida Carrion, facilitated weekly parent workshops on literacy, math, and kindergarten readiness to help parents mentor their children at home. In order to provide a true bridge to Kindergarten and beyond, we also created personalized reports for each child to be sent to their Kindergarten teacher so that they can understand the child’s academic and social needs, learn from the strategies we have used, and help them thrive in school!
  1. Bolstering our social media presence: In addition to our new blog, we created Twitter and Instagram accounts for Kickstart. We also continued to post frequent updates on our Facebook page, and began revamping our website (keep an eye out for more improvements to it in the coming months!).

Overall, it’s been a great summer at Kickstart. Between the work we accomplished outside of the classroom and the high needs of many of our students, this summer was our most challenging onekindergarten kickstart 4 yet. We are happy to have ended this year’s program with a feeling of accomplishment, both for our progress and our students’ many achievements. As always, we are grateful to our faculty advisor Anna Shusterman, our amazing team of teachers, our research and community collaborators, and the Patricelli Center for making this work possible, and we look forward to continuing our work on our research interventions and training manual over the course of the school year!