by BRENDA EGGERT BRADER
A simple game of Simon Says can help a child learn to listen to instructions. Recognizing colors and counting numbers are pathways to preparation for success in kindergarten. But not all children are prepared for that first class in the structural ladder of learning.
Seeing a need for better education in Winter Haven, the Public Education Partnership (PEP) has taken root. Doug Lockwood, native and educated in Winter Haven schools, returned to the city in 2011 and noted a need to do something better than what was going on in the county school district. With a gathering of interested people around the community, PEP was formed with Lockwood as chairman of the board. One such board member is Nat West, former vice president of Winter Haven Hospital and local popular musician.
“We communicated with the schools to see what the schools and their principals would like,” West says. “In elementary school, they voiced needing help with kindergarten preparation.”
High school staffs wanted an IB school in Winter Haven High School. Not a possibility, PEP suggested the schools look at the Cambridge Model based in England. College-recognized, the system works in a similar manner to IB programs, said West. With that advice, Career Connection was born with 252 students involved the first year who want to academically excel with a major focus. Another program started was the Florence Villa Area After School Program, where busses bring children to the PEP Education Center to tutor kids after school.
Having such a success with the first few programs, West says the board came up with a variety of new and different strategies:
- Winter Haven Kindergarten Ready
- fine arts to encourage schools to be more active with arts
- music and theater
- middle school athletics
- advanced curriculums and academic pathways
- on or above grade level reading by third grade
- community schools that have nurses, food, and a variety of different resources and social workers that regular schools don’t have
- trying to link schools with a business partner.
“The main goal with PEP, and the reason I am so thrilled with this particular project,” West says, “is the PEP Kindergarten Ready program is not to tell the kids how to do things, but our job is to get the kids prepared to do things. If we can do this correctly it will have a major impact on schools. If not, every child in there will be cheated. If you are going to have your child ready, the teacher is going to have to work with the ones so far behind, so your kid will be cheated. If kindergarten children can’t count to three how are they going to take a test on a computer within the first month of school?”
“According to national data, children ready for kindergarten won’t drop out of school or lose their self esteem and will feel comfortable in the classroom,” says West.
“The ultimate goal is getting to a point where we can evaluate how these children get behind or are not prepared for school. If we can get people in Winter Haven talking about it, then I think we can ready a lot of people locally,” West added.
“Parents obviously want the best for their children, so the kindergarten ready team began gathering information for parents to help them during the crucial birth to five years period,” West says.
“Experts say that 90 percent of the child’s brain is formed by age four and therefore playing, talking, and reading with them is so vitally important during these years. Winter Haven Hospital gives a book to every child born to reinforce reading from the start, with an accompanying letter about why and how parents can read with their child from birth.”
Where do you find the information?
Winter Haven Kindergarten Ready volunteers have taken the best information from multiple sources and focused on key points parents should know. The website, whkindergartenready.org, is packed with a multitude of information and help for parents to discover what their child needs to develop and learn.
Winter Haven is promoting the cause.
Dr. Peter Verrill, retired obstetrics and gynecology specialist in Winter Haven, has visited 11 different doctors’ offices such as obstetricians or pediatricians where parents take young children, and left behind framed signs about the program along with informational cards parents can take with them to learn how to help their children through the program.
It is extremely important our children are prepared for the start of kindergarten and don’t begin schooling behind the curve. Thankfully, advocates such as Nat West and Doug Lockwood are attempting to tackle this problem with their Public Education Partnership program.