Less than half of kindergartners enrolled in Laguna Beach public elementary schools are fully prepared for the classroom experience, according to a 2016 survey administered by their teachers.
As a result, the school district recently established an early readiness task force that includes directors from private preschools in town to take action, says Irene White, the district’s director of special education and student services.
The most recent results from the Early Development Index (EDI) survey of 156 kindergarten students at El Morro and Top of the World Elementary schools show they are struggling in two of the five areas tested for school readiness. Their peers countywide also show a lack of readiness in the same areas, though at a lower percentage.
The survey indicates that 48 percent of children in last year’s kindergarten classes were not ready in fine and gross motor skills, and 15 percent were somewhat ready. The motor skills reviewed include the ability to hold writing utensils such as pencils, crayons or paintbrushes; manipulate objects; climb stairs and maintain energy throughout the school day.
The second area where Laguna Beach children struggle is communication skills and general knowledge. The survey reports that 49 percent of children were unready and 15 percent somewhat ready. Skills in the communication and knowledge domain include a child’s ability to use language effectively in English to tell a story, communicate their own needs in a way understandable to adults and peers, the ability to understand on first try what is being said to them, ability to take part in imaginative play, and articulate clearly as well showing adequate general knowledge, according to the survey.
“A community-wide effort is necessary to improve our early childhood service systems,” said White in a statement. “We can change the outcomes by informing the community and providing families with opportunities that can help children build the necessary skills to be ready for kindergarten.”
The task force, which has met once, plan three more meetings this year. It consists of two teams; a readiness coordinator, nurse, school psychologist, speech and language specialist and White, along with a kindergarten teacher, PTA president and administrators from Laguna Presbyterian Church pre-school, the private Anneliese Schools and the Boys and Girls Club.
Presbyterian Pre-School Director Anne Herzog said she was “first surprised and concerned” about the survey results. “That’s why I wanted to be a part of the task force and see what can we do next.”
Herzog says the Presbyterian pre-school has volunteered to be a part of the Orange County Department of Education Quality Start program that assesses and evaluates early child development pre-schools. The school has received a four-star rating and a Quality Start representative makes the assessment, she said.
Developing fine motor skills such as using tweezers, eye droppers, beading and art activities are a part of their classroom activities, she said. So are gross motor skills integrated in the pre-school physical education classes, she said, such as running, jumping and skipping.
The EDI survey was administered locally in 2014 and 2016 and indicate similar results, says a district statement. Kindergarten teachers complete the questionnaire for each of their students, White said.
Public school officials don’t track which preschools children attend before enrolling in kindergarten, but White estimates many attended local programs.
The survey targets five areas known to affect well-being and school performance: physical health and well-being, social competence, emotional maturity, language and cognitive skills and communication skills and general knowledge.
Jon Gilliom, manager of the county library branch in Laguna Beach, also expressed surprise at the results. Currently, the library offers a once a month parent education events in alliance with LBUSD. “We are looking for more ways to do outreach after seeing the survey results,” said Gilliom.
The library hopes to reinstate more community programs once a new children’s librarian has been hired to replace the one who was transferred.
Besides parent education events at the library, school administrators promote school readiness with other outreach efforts: professional development training at local preschools, free developmental screening, referrals to community resources and an opportunity to enroll in Learning Link.
The district began the interactive Learning Link center for parents with children 2 ½ to 5 years old last year. Its once a week, two-hour program is intended to encourage childhood growth and development. Sandra Bandettini, who heads up the Learning Link, views the survey results as a tool “that helps the district see the vulnerable areas of child development and that it is invaluable to the district to get students prepared for kindergarten.”
The EDI results were collected countywide in 379 schools and 1,412 classrooms last year, the survey shows. Consultant Cinda Muckenthaler with the Children and Families Commission of Orange County, shared and analyzed the most recent results with school staff and administrators, preschool teachers and directors, says a district statement.