Best Place for Kids! Inaugural Summer Program Boosts Kindergarten Readiness Skills, Connects Parents to Community Resources
The first-of-its-kind Best Place for Kids! kindergarten transition program launched across five Fort Worth ISD schools this summer and concluded with graduation ceremonies for the children and families on August 9, 2019. (Click here to see the NBC 5 story.) To see a high-level overview of the program and results, click here.
Why Pre-Kindergarten Summer Programming?
With only 60% of Tarrant County kindergarteners entering school ready to learn and roughly 34% of Fort Worth ISD children reading on grade level by the 3rd grade, Mayor Price and local community partners launched a summer program to help incoming kindergarteners and their families get ready for the upcoming school year and connect to key community resources.
Purpose & Goals
The purpose of this summer’s Best Place for Kids! program was to open elementary schools over the summer to implement a WHOLE COMMUNITY APPROACH that:
Builds a SOLID FOUNDATION of EXPECTATIONS for CHILDREN and FAMILIES during their transition into Kindergarten,
Boosts KINDERGARTEN READINESS for children through academic programming and wraparound summer pre-school services, and
Connects families and communities to schools early to encourage STRONG FAMILY/SCHOOL/COMMUNITY RELATIONSHIPS and SUSTAINED PARENT ENGAGEMENT.
Participating Schools & Key Stats
Below is a snapshot of the five (5) Fort Worth ISD schools that implemented the free summer kindergarten transition program for local families. All of the schools have a vast majority of their students who come from low-income families.
Two of the schools have a majority of students that do not speak English as their primary language. Diamond Hill Elementary hosted both a Spanish-speaking and English-speaking class over the summer. All flyers, text message reminders, and email communications were also translated in both English and Spanish.
The format of the kindergarten programming ranged from 1 week to 5 weeks, depending on principal input and feedback from parents on each campus about what would work best for their children.
The key components of the 5-week summer program offered at three of the schools included:
United Community Centers developed the pre-Kindergarten transition curriculum, taught the pre-Kindergarten classes (along with a teacher from each of the schools), and administered the pre- and post-tests to the participating children.
Family fun nights offered every Thursday included free dinner, open gym, and games, and highlighted local community partners who provided activities and/or information about their services. The 13 community partners that participated in this summer’s Best Place for Kids! program included:
Fort Worth Library
Fort Worth Zoo
Fortress Youth Development Center
Goodwill Digital Skills
The Parenting Center
United Community Centers
UNTHSC Mobile Pediatric Clinic
UNTHSC Mobile Vision Van
Principals at each of the five schools and their parent engagement liaisons were critical to the planning and execution process! A special thanks to Principal Gray (Edward J. Briscoe Elementary), Principal Martinez (Diamond Hill Elementary), Principal Scott (Eastern Hills Elementary), Principal Harper (T.A. Sims Elementary), and Principal Besses (Van Zandt-Guinn Elementary) for going above and beyond to open their schools over the summer and create an impactful experience for their youngest students and families!
The Summer Kick-Off Party was hosted at United Community Centers – Bethlehem Center on Saturday, June 29th from 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. with a welcome from Mayor Betsy Price. Over 130 children and their family members from across the community enjoyed face painters, a snow cone truck, pizzas and games to celebrate Fort Worth as the Best Place for Kids! Booths with all 13 of our summer community partners provided families with free services (vision screenings, medical vaccines, healthy snack kits, parent-child development games, etc.) as well as information on how to access these services in the future.
Summer Program Approach
The Best Place for Kids! Summer program was designed as a whole-community approach to impact children, families, schools, and community partners. Below is the strategy design and success metrics that were guided by national best practices and co-developed with principals, funders, parents, and community partners.
Summer Program Results
For the first summer launching the “Best Place for Kids!” program, the level of engagement and attendance at the participating schools was encouraging. The pre- and post- testing results from the 5-week kindergarten program were extremely positive, as were the parent surveys following the program. Below is a summary of those high-level takeaways.
Parent questionnaires were issued to participating kindergarten transition students’ parents at the end of the program, asking them to rank their experience and feeling about their school following the program.
The first section of the survey intended to gauge parents’ feelings about their school following the summer program.Of all 168 question responses in this section of the survey, every parent response was a “3 = Agree” (which is highest/most positive rating) except for one “0 = undecided”.
For the second section of the survey assessing the quality of the program in improving students’ readiness for kindergarten, 98% of the responses were a “3 = Agree” (the highest/most positive rating).
For the last section of the survey, 93% of parent respondents indicated at least one community partner that they planned to follow up with to utilize their services because of the summer program introduction to that organization.
Lessons Learned & Next Steps
The results of the program, including the improvements our kindergarten transition students, the positive parent feedback, and breadth of community partner engagement were promising, and many valuable lessons were learned along the way, including:
Starting recruitment earlier. As our first pilot program this year, we began recruiting students and parents in May. An earlier target date (January) moving forward will allow us to connect with students and families earlier to talk to them about the benefits of the program.
Integrating school programming into family fun nights. Every Thursday having game night and dinner for families was well received. However, moving forward we would like to use this time to integrate information about the school year and updates from principals, in addition to highlighting the services of our local community partners.
Engaging more community partners and new schools. We were extremely grateful to have had the 13 partners alongside this program over our first summer, and look forward to the opportunity to work with additional community partners, churches, community centers, and schools who would like to participate in the program in future years.
A special thank you to our Best Place for Kids Director, Cheraya Peña, and our Summer Recruitment Coordinator, Jerletha McDonald, for their extraordinary efforts to make this summer possible for our participating local children, families, and schools!
If you are interested in participating in next summer’s “Best Place for Kids!” kindergarten transition program, please contact Cheraya Peña at Cheraya@BestPlace4Kids.com.