January 24, 2014

Begindergarten to spread beyond Cass County

"Begindergarten" being marketed to outside organizations.

By Amie Sites Pharos-Tribune

---- — Begindergarten, Reading Railroad’s program designed to prepare children for kindergarten, is now being packaged for other organizations in Indiana.

Rena Sterrett, director of Reading Railroad, has been working for almost a year to turn Begindergarten in to a packaged program available to other Hoosier communities.

The now trademarked program includes two options for interested organizations. The first is purchasing a manual developed by Sterrett. The second includes the manual in addition to a six-hour training session run by Sterrett.

The fee for the manual will be $2,000 with the fee for the manual and training being $3,400. The national United Way is offering a grant to United Way agencies for early childhood education, which is perfect for Begindergarten, Sterrett said. The training will cover everything from acquiring funding to creating community partnerships.

“It has everything they need to know about [Begindergarten],” Sterrett said.

In the past few years, Nikki Reed, former Reading Railroad director, talked with numerous organizations in other counties in the state that expressed interest, Sterrett said. That was the reason they decided to offer it to others.

Letters were sent out in December to alert United Way organizations, mayors across the state, community foundations and non-profit organizations that the program is available.

Allen and Whitley counties have expressed interest in the program and Sterrett is hopeful other organizations will as well with the national push for early childhood education. More and more people are becoming aware of the need, she said.

The Reading Railroad program began in Cass County in 2011. Since then it has grown to accommodate more students.

Sterrett is taking Reading Railroad to a new level, Vicki Byrd, Cass County United Way board president, said.

Sterrett said it’s exciting to see everything come together. The main growth of a child’s brain happens before age 6, she said. The need is becoming more apparent when children who don’t have these opportunities are falling behind.

The Begindergarten program serves about 100 kids. The group of students who attend the six-week program are determined by scores at Kindergarten roundup.

“The growth we see in the kids is amazing,” Sterrett said.

The now trademarked program has grown in the past three years, allowing for those involved to measure student improvement from start to finish.

Last year, children who came into the program knew about 40 percent of skills they needed to know to be a successful kindergartener. The children, as a group, left knowing 80 percent of skills needed.

Sterrett hopes to see the program grow as well as the interest in early childhood education.

Amie Sites is a staff reporter at the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at 574-732-5117 or Follow her: @PharosAES.