A more structured and measurable Begindergarten program in Cass County drew a visit last week from a state leader in the United Way, an organization that plays a strong financial role in the program’s success.
Begindergarten is designed to identify and assist students at the pre-kindergarten level who may not be ready for a structured school environment. It began as a pilot program last year in which 96 students were identified as ones who might benefit from the six-week program.
Only about 40 students attended last year’s program. Nikki Reed, coordinator of United Way’s Reading Railroad program in Cass County, called it a “learning year.”
“One of the things that we thought was critical to the success and the measurement of the program was to implement a screening tool that was effective,” Reed said late last week. “That screening tool has been one of the largest improvements since last year because not only are we using it to determine which kids can be in Begindergarten, but we’re also using it to track the progress throughout the program.”
Though last year’s efforts were deemed a success despite having two months to prepare, Reed said improvements were made by communicating more with Logansport Community School Corporation principals and kindergarten teachers to determine what children need to know before entering kindergarten.
This year, 257 children were screened at kindergarten roundup to assess their “super skills,” which include name, shape, color and alphabet recognition, as well as numbers and counting. There were 96 students who qualified for the program this year, and 71 enrolled.
Reed said the students this year will be tested three times throughout the program and again in kindergarten. She said the students will be compared to kids who qualified for the program but did not attend and to those who were considered “kindergarten ready.”
“So I think that has been one of the biggest improvements because it’s really an easy way to show the impact that the program is actually making through data and through numbers,” Reed said.
Michele Starkey, superintendent of Logansport schools, was among the area leaders who attended the visit Thursday by Lucinda Nord, the area’s representative from the Indiana Association of United Way. Sen. Randy Head and Mayor Ted Franklin were also part of the group.
Starkey said she compares programs like Begindergarten to the foundation of a house.
“You’re not going to build a house if you don’t have a stable foundation,” she said.
Reed said Nord visited the program to see how it runs without major support from an entity like Indiana University, which traditionally helps the communities with programs like this where it has a presence.
“What really makes us unique is that we’re doing a really awesome program without really much funding,” Reed said of the program that cost $30,000 this year. “We’re doing it with a smaller amount of funding because we’re relying so much on community resources.”
Reed said the program is successful because of organizations like the United Way, Area Five Agency on Aging and Community Service’s Head Start program and Food Finders.
“When we come together and maximize those resources, you really can get something like this accomplished,” she said.
• Jason M. Rodriguez is associate editor of the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at 574-732-5117 or firstname.lastname@example.org.