According to Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child, ensuring early school success for all children, especially those economically challenged, predicts later school success and many other positive life outcomes. Expanding enrichment opportunities for preschoolers is one way of supporting these young learners and in Grinnell, Iowa, the Grinnell Education Partnership has partnered to do just that.
The Grinnell Education Partnership (GEP), a Campaign for Grade Level Reading affiliate in Grinnell, Iowa, (population 9,564) provides the collaborative “backbone” infrastructure to bring together 30+ community organizations in co-creating solutions to address emerging educational needs in our small rural town.
To support the importance of early literacy and to promote kindergarten readiness, Read 2 Lead (R2L), local non-profit which supports early language and literacy development , dreamed of providing additional literacy support and encouragement of reading to Grinnell area young learners to help them as they transition to kindergarten. The idea of a creating a literacy bag, filled with books for rising kindergarteners to read over the summer months, was a solution that the R2L Board conceptualized. However, the COVID pandemic was hindering fundraising and causing scheduling constraints for R2L. That is when two GEP AmeriCorps VISTA members stepped in to partner with R2L, adding the needed capacity to launch the project.
Substantial & Effective: How well did it work and at what scale?
The AmeriCorps members convened seven (7) community organizations who were eager to partner on this pilot project. Partner organizations included Grinnell United Way, Bayer CropScience, Grinnell Mutual, Drake Community Library, Connected PTO, Grinnell Newburg School Foundation, and Grinnell College.
The first Kindergarten Kickoff Summer Fun Literacy Bags (KKO bags) were successfully assembled and delivered by AmeriCorps VISTA members to Grinnell area preschools in May of 2021 as they were dismissed for the summer. 125 KKO bags were distributed to Grinnell children who would be entering kindergarten in the fall of 2021. Besides three popular age-appropriate books, these R2L-imprinted reusable canvas bags also contained a beach towel, water bottle, and ancillary items that promote summer outdoor play, imagination, and fun such as sidewalk chalk, bubbles, crayons, sunglasses, a beachball, and a pad of paper. There was also information included from various community organizations to help families better connect with area resources. A calendar of public library summer events and a library card registration form were included as well as information from the school district’s parent teacher organization about how caretakers can get involved with that group along with a coupon for a free ice cream cone at a local ice cream shop.
We are confident that this program is effective based on school readiness data collected by the Grinnell Newburg Community School District. In 2020-21, before the bags were launched, 75% of kindergarten students tested proficient on the FAST assessment. After the KKO bags were launched in the summer of 2021, that number increased by 8 points to 83% when school started again in 2021-22.
Sustainable: How likely is it to persist and grow?
After two successful pilot summers, the Kindergarten Kickoff program was officially “adopted” by R2L for long-term sustainability. With this committed support, the program continues to grow. In addition to distribution within Grinnell, the bag distribution now includes two other neighboring school districts, with a total of 178 preschoolers receiving a bag this past year (up from 53 bags in year one) – an expansion in reach of over 300%. R2L has also started to collect information from parents via a Google survey and decisions for bag contents for the following year are made based on the responses. As a result, the bags now include manipulatives that young learners can practice with at home. R2L board members who are also early childhood specialists have designed letter and number cards along with a “Let’s Get Started” suggestion sheet that give pointers on how to use these items. Four books were included in this year’s bag, with colorable character cards which allow the child to tell the story in their own style. A “What Can we Do Today to Inspire Growth and Enrichment” calendar is included. Examples include: “June 9 – When doing your bedtime routine, do one thing and ask what comes next.” Or “June 30 – Count the number of steps from your bedroom to the kitchen.”
Community support is apparent. Each year, additional community partners have joined the partnership as financial supporters to provide the contents of the bag indicating continued opportunities for growth and improvement.
Replicable: How easy is it for others to adopt and/or adapt?
Strong community collaboration to strengthen and better align existing community resources is the key to success for the Read 2 Lead Kindergarten Kickoff project. The robust collaborative infrastructure of the Grinnell Education Partnership provided important capacity that enabled R2L to pilot a new idea and deepen community partnerships focused on their mission of supporting early learners.
Additional resources and information about this project can be found on the R2L webpage at https://sites.google.com/read2lead.info/read2lead
Information about the Grinnell Education Partnership (GEP) can be found at https://www.grinnelleducationpartnership.org