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Stories of Impact › Preparing Young Students for Success in School, and Beyond

Preparing Young Students for Success in School, and Beyond

Absorbing Carbon on Marin's Rangelands
It’s the end of another school day at Hamilton Elementary in Novato. Kids are getting in a few more minutes of play before they leave for home. The American flag in front of the school is being lowered. Custodians are washing floors, and chairs are being placed on desks.

However, in Fern Kepke’s kindergarten room, 12 teachers—half are educators at local preschool programs and half are kindergarten teachers at Hamilton—are settling into kid-sized chairs for a two-hour meeting to discuss how to help young children make the critical transition from pre-school into kindergarten.

Surrounded by holiday-themed art, silhouettes of students, and displays about numbers, the weather, and letters, the participants take up the subject of how to help youngsters succeed in this very room.

Within minutes, questions start flying.

What should children already know—things like numbers and motor skills—when they enter kindergarten?

How important is it to track and report on behavioral issues, such as “keeping their hands to themselves”? Should there be a standard check-list that everyone uses? What does it mean to be socially ready for kindergarten, compared to academically ready? How do different learning styles come into play?

When is it appropriate to keep a child back one year before starting kindergarten? And, importantly, what are the challenges young students might face in kindergarten if they start out behind their better-prepared peers—even at such a young age?

At times, information about children can get very specific—for example, reporting that a child has a strong interest in space exploration, or even recommending that two children not sit next to each other.

As they discuss these issues, the teachers learn about each others’ expectations for their students, share insights about how to identify developmental needs, describe various teaching strategies, and, overall, reach a better understanding of how to set the stage for kindergarten in ways that can mean the difference between success and failure.

As one participant puts it, “We need to look at the whole child.”

Another early childhood educator emphasizes the important role that pre-K education plays in a child’s life. “Before, there was a day-care mentality about these kinds of programs,” she says. “But we’re raised the bar. Now, we’re preparing kids for kindergarten and trying to nip behavioral issues in the bud before our students turn five. We’re following a curriculum.”

As the meeting breaks up, there’s agreement to review a set of academic standards used by the kindergarten teachers and to take the next step in developing a common assessment form.

This gathering was held as part of MCF’s Strategic Initiative to close the education achievement gap in Marin. A focus of the initiative is on early learning—from pre-K through grade three—because of the importance of these early years on a student’s entire academic experience.

And within that focus, there’s an emphasis on how students transition from one grade to the next, so teachers can identify students with particular challenges, understand the expectations for each grade level, and ensure that students are prepared to succeed in the next grade.

“It’s very clear to us that one of the education achievement gaps is between preschool and kindergarten,” says Hamilton principal Ruthanne Bexton. “By addressing this, we can make a huge difference in what we can accomplish to prepare kids for first grade.

“My longest-serving kindergarten teacher recently told me, ‘I’ve been doing research on this for two years. This is one of the most important things we can do.’”

Bexton adds that this work is one aspect of the school’s overall efforts to address education from pre-K through third grade at her school. Teachers in all four grades are working together to identify what’s expected of a student as he or she moves on to the next grade level. And there are renewed efforts to reach out to parents—encouraging them to enroll their kids in preschool, learn English (if they are not native speakers), attend school functions, and help their kids learn at home, with a focus on literacy.

“This is hard work, but I’m very hopeful that over time this can make a huge difference for children moving ahead,” she says.

<< Back to Closing the Education Achievement Gap

"The more I work with the MCF, the more impressed I am by the Foundation's professionalism, commitment to mission, and dedication to donor charitable intentions. MCF is an exceptional resource to our charitable community and provides much needed stewardship of donor assets. I am always very pleased to be able to refer clients to them."

Julia Sze,
CFA, Senior Investment Strategist, Wells Fargo Family Wealth Group, Member of MCF's Investment Committee, and a Donor since 2006