Tower Foundation grant supports kindergarten-readiness program
Mounting evidence illustrates early education plays a critical role in the cognitive and social-emotional development of children.
And now a third phase of the Niagara County Early Child Care Quality Improvement Project (QIP) has an opportunity to make a significant impact on the larger early childhood education community in Niagara County by reaching more than 6,000 children entering kindergarten, their families and educators over the next three years.
Funded by The Peter and Elizabeth C. Tower Foundation and facilitated by Niagara University, the Niagara QIP has commenced a "Transition to Kindergarten" phase of its trailblazing program, which will focus on strengthening academic and social-emotional transitions for children entering kindergarten from various early childhood preschool and home-based settings throughout Niagara County.
"The Niagara QIP is a wonderful representation of the Vincentian values of collaboration, service and educational access," said the Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., president of Niagara University. "School readiness is a critical, but often overlooked, piece to the education system. By working with our partners to provide children with a strong educational foundation for long-term academic achievement, we are also creating a continuum for the success and sustainability of Niagara County and Western New York."
Since being instituted in 2010, the Niagara QIP has consistently produced positive outcomes during each its first two three-year phases. In phase one, the emphasis was on preschool learning environments, with the primary goals being to enhance the quality of early child care delivered by child care centers in Niagara County and to improve the school readiness of children entering kindergarten. In phase two, the objectives focused on improving the classroom quality of infant and toddler environments, elevating the knowledge and skills of child care providers, and identifying the early learning and/or behavioral deficits of infants and toddlers through developmental and social-emotional screening.
The Niagara QIP improved the quality of care and early education for 715 preschool children in 30 child care centers (44 classrooms) in phase one, and 814 infants and toddlers in 60 classrooms in phase two.
Additionally, 86 early childhood personnel completed a 45-hour early childhood professional development certificate program during phase one. During phase two, 104 early childhood workers finished coursework that earned them college credit toward NU's undergraduate degree program in early childhood development and cognition.
A combined total of 794 child care employees received an array of professional development training through a short-course series of early childhood topics that were made available to them through the Niagara QIP.
Building on its successful outcomes, the Niagara QIP will now play a leading role in the development and implementation of a community-wide kindergarten transition program. By cultivating relationships among Niagara County's early education programs, schools, families and communities, the Niagara QIP will facilitate interactions between these groups in order to help students succeed in school.
To start, two sessions of "Kindercamp" (July 10-13, 17-20) will take place this summer, offering children the opportunity to learn important academic and social skills in a hands-on way that supports their development. Open to children attending kindergarten in the fall of 2017, the camp will serve as a bridge between preschool and kindergarten, designed to expose children to reading and math in an exciting, interactive way by using educational games and activities. The program will help children develop social skills through activities that build confidence and communication. A take-home component will also present activities for children and their parents/guardians to work on together.
In addition to Kindercamp, the Niagara QIP will also offer parent information sessions throughout the summer. These sessions range in topics from developmental milestone screenings to early literacy.
The goals for children entering kindergarten as a part of the Niagara QIP's third phase include those supported by research: (1) improve social-emotional competence of children entering kindergarten; (2) improve kindergarten benchmarks; (3) increase kindergarten attendance; and (4) decrease school suspensions/expulsions in kindergarten.
The third phase will be much larger in scope than its previous incarnations, as it will include not only Niagara QIP-affiliated child care centers, but the larger early childhood community of preschool-age children who will enter kindergarten in a school operated by one of Niagara County's 10 school districts, non-public and charter schools. Therefore, this phase also includes preschool-age children being cared for in the home by a parent or family member and not enrolled in any formal child care/early childhood program.
Current estimates from the New York State Education Department indicate approximately 2,100 children enter kindergarten in Niagara County each year. The New York State Office of Children and Family Services lists 45 daycare centers in Niagara County, including organizations with specialized programs for children with disabilities, 40 family daycare homes and 21 group family daycare homes.
Research conducted in the past 20 years identifies continuity as a critical component of successful kindergarten transition, especially for those at risk for school failure. The Harvard Family Resource Project defines transition as a process - not just a one-time event - that begins during children's preschool years and continues into third grade.
Children seem to fare better when they participate in a number of activities rather than single events, suggesting that one-off, transition-to-school events may be less effective than multiple, ongoing transition activities. Quality transitions are those in which families, schools and communities have opportunities to work together as a team to share information and create continuity in curriculum, assessments and relationship quality across learning settings.
The Niagara QIP began as a collaborative partnership between the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo via the Niagara Area Foundation, the United Way of Greater Niagara, and Niagara University. Initial financial support for the Niagara QIP was granted by The Peter and Elizabeth C. Tower Foundation in partnership with the Grigg Lewis Foundation. Phase two was also financially supported by both foundations along with the United Way of Greater Niagara.
To learn more about the Niagara County Early Child Care Quality Improvement Project, visit www.niagara.edu/qip.