Maybe not, new report indicates
A recent study of Del Norte’s youngest schoolchildren found that most kindergarten students were not ready to be there.
Kindergarten teacher Janet Parker leads students to class on opening day last September at Bess Maxwell Elementary. Del Norte Triplicate/Bryant Anderson
Of the 281 kindergarteners assessed, only 23 percent were ready to start school, according to “School Readiness in Del Norte County,” a report paid for by First 5 Del Norte.
Another quarter were making progress toward having the skills necessary for the first year of school, but 50 percent were lacking the necessary academic and social-emotional skills.
“There’s a significant number who aren’t prepared for kindergarten,” said Patti Vernelson, the executive director of First 5 Del Norte Children and Families Commission, a local agency focused on the development of children through age 5.
The report lists numerous skills kids should have when they enter kindergarten. Children possessing them will likely succeed later in school, according to the report. If they start without them, they may struggle in the years ahead.
Local officials said focusing more on children’s development in the first five years of life will help them be ready for school. This can be done by educating parents on ways they can help their children’s development and looking for signs of potential problems, officials said.
“Here’s how you can help your child,” Vernelson said.
First 5 Del Norte commissioned the “School Readiness” report conducted by Applied Survey Research, a non-profit social research firm, to assess students entering kindergarten in 2011. Additional assessments are planned for this fall and the next.
All elementary schools in Del Norte except Bess Maxwell School participated in the “School Readiness” report. Kindergarten teachers assessed their students’ abilities and a survey was sent home with parents.
However, only half of parents returned the survey.
Students scored the lowest in “self-regulation” skills — the ability to control their emotions and behave in class. The highest scores were in “self-care and motor skills” — control of their movements and ability to take care of themselves.
Only 23 percent of Del Norte students assessed had both the academic and self-regulation skills for kindergarten, 27 percent had mixed results and 50 had needs in both skills areas, according to the report.
Most kindergartners had good self care and motor skills, meaning they can take care of their basic needs and can control their movements.
Of the kids assessed by their teachers, most recognized basic colors, 72 percent, and shapes, 77 percent, but struggled with other academic skills.
Only 15 percent knew letters, 22 percent recognized rhyming words and 29 could write their name. A number of students were getting close to mastering these skills, but half were only in the beginning stages of learning this basic knowledge.
Drilling toward the problem
Vernelson said that using this data, local officials can “drill down” to the key issues affecting children.
The high number of kids not ready for kindergarten is reflective of the community’s biggest issues: poverty, teen pregnancy and child abuse, she said. All those things put children at risk of not being ready for school, she said.
The report found that students whose parents knew how to help develop their children’s skills and engaged in activities to prepare them for school had higher school readiness levels. Children of higher income families tend to do better in school, according to the report.
Del Norte has a high number of children with special needs, Vernelson said.
Of the students assessed, 13 percent had special needs and 7 percent had a suspected special need not yet identified, according to the report.
Throughout Del Norte schools, 15 percent of children have special needs, said district Superintendent Don Olson, while the state average is 11 percent.
Early intervention for children lacking certain skills can be effective in getting them on track, Olson said.
The report found more than a fifth of students — 21 percent — have delayed language skills. That’s more than the number of children (13 percent) who are learning English as a second language.
“That’s a huge red flag,” Vernelson said.
Talking and reading to children — even when they’re babies — will help develop their language skills, she said.
Ninety percent of brain development happens from birth to 3 years old, she said.
Parents, guardians and child care centers need to be made aware of the importance of talking and reading to children — to engage their brains, Vernelson said.
“We can do something about that,” she said.
There’s the Reach Out and Read, a national program in which physicians give books to parents as part of a child’s check-up, Vernelson said. Some local physicians are participating.
Parents could use the Ages and Stages questionnaires, a nationally recognized screening system used by preschools and physicians. With the questionnaires, parents can see what skills their children should have at their age, track their progress and determine if there’s any problems, Vernelson said.
“Are they meeting the milestones?” she said.