Kindergarten Kickoffs mark new SPARK program

Last year, the Literacy Cooperative, a nonprofit agency, identified SPARK (Supporting Partnerships to Assure Ready Kids) as a model for increasing early childhood literacy and school-readiness in Cuyahoga County. SPARK parent partners work with children and parents to deliver an in-home tutoring program that not only guides the child through a proven curriculum but also connects the family to resources it may need. The first group of children and parents to participate in SPARK will join two Kindergarten Kickoffs on two consecutive Thursdays, August 18 and August 25, at Oxford Elementary School in Cleveland Heights. The sessions are co-presented with Invest in Children and Family Connections.

During each session, children participate in activities that mimic the school experience, and they meet new classmates, teachers, and school staff. Parents tour the school, learn about the grade level content standards, and meet teachers and staff. Each night culminates in a joint activity.

Research shows that the time of transition when children move from preschool or a home-based setting into kindergarten is critical; that successful transitions bridge the divide from home to the more formal expectations of school; and that a child’s future academic success is positively correlated with that child’s opportunities to be engaged in the life of the school before entering kindergarten.

Essential elements of the program include: parent partners who work closely with children and parents through monthly in-home interactions; developmental screenings for all children; follow-up assessments as indicated; individual therapies as needed (i.e., for speech or behavioral issues); learning plans individualized to each child; home and group visits with prescribed lesson plans based on Ohio’s early learning content standards; developmentally appropriate books with art supplies and activity cards; transitional program to take the mystery (and fear) out of kindergarten for children and families; and backpacks with school supplies.

The Literacy Cooperative hopes to replicate positive results from Cuyahoga County SPARK programs in Stark, Summit, Trumbull, Hamilton, Medina, and Mahoning Counties. That’s great news because the results of SPARK in other Ohio counties include: SPARK children scored statistically higher on the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment in Literacy (KRA-L) than non-SPARK peers in the same classrooms; SPARK children were linked to community services prior to the start of kindergarten to address developmental and social-emotional barriers that would prevent school readiness; SPARK increased enrollment of children in early childhood or pre-school programs; SPARK children improved in their socio-emotional ability; SPARK children had a higher average rate of school attendance than their non-SPARK peers; and third grade Ohio Achievement Assessment (OAA) results in reading and math are statistically higher for SPARK children than non-SPARK children, especially at the highest performance levels (advanced and accelerated) and among males.

These positive outcomes can have life-long implications. Studies show that strong early childhood initiatives lead in the long run to lower percentages of special-education placement and incarceration. The economic return on investment in early childhood programs is statistically significant.

The Literacy Cooperative secured funding to replicate SPARK in Cuyahoga County from the Abington Foundation, the Cleveland Foundation, the George Gund Foundation, the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation, the PNC Foundation, the Stocker Foundation, and the United Way of Greater Cleveland. SPARK is currently offered at select schools in Maple Heights, Cleveland Heights, and Cleveland.

Enrollment is open in SPARK Cuyahoga for children entering kindergarten in August 2012 at Boulevard, Noble, and Oxford Elementary Schools in Cleveland Heights. Contact Family Connections 216-921-8021 for more information.

Katherine Bulava

Katherine Bulava is President of Hatha Communications.

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Volume 4, Issue 9, Posted 10:28 AM, 08.16.2011