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United Way program improves kindergarten readiness

GURNEE – United Way of Lake County has conducted a Kindergarten Readiness Assessment during the first four to six weeks of school every three years in Waukegan since 2006, according to a news release.

Twelve years ago, a baseline assessment showed only 6 percent of the children in Waukegan public schools had the skills needed to be successful in kindergarten. The results were a call to action for United Way of Lake County to launch the Success By 6 Program designed to promote healthy early childhood development to ensure children begin school ready to succeed.

Today, the percentage of Waukegan children who arrive at kindergarten ready to succeed in school has increased from 6 percent to 57 percent.

Studies show that children who begin kindergarten prepared to learn are more likely to stay engaged in school and be on track to graduate from high school; they will be less likely to receive government assistance in adulthood; they will have lower rates of felony arrest, convictions, and incarceration; they will be 2 1/2 more times likely to go to college; they will be more likely to own a home and earn 42 percent more than the median income in their communities. Preparing children for a successful start in school builds stronger communities.

Readiness is measured using a two-pronged independent assessment developed by Santa Clara Partnership for School Readiness and Applied Survey Research that includes an evaluation of student skills through teacher and trained volunteer observation, as well as a parent survey. In Waukegan, 483 children from 26 classrooms in seven elementary schools were assessed, including children from Carman-Buckner, Clearview, Cooke Magnet, Glen Flora, Glenwood, McCall and North. The statistically valid sample represents 48 percent of all kindergarteners with 51 percent of parents responding.

Students were assessed in 15 readiness skills grouped into four educational focus areas that are recognized by educators as essential to a comprehensive education: Communication and Language Usage, Cognition and General Knowledge, Social and Emotional Development, and Physical Well-Being and Motor Development.

A focus of United Way of Lake County’s Success By 6 programming, readiness scores of the major literacy and cognition skills have improved in the past three years and all scores improved significantly since 2006. While these results are encouraging, there is still more work to do.

Success By 6 has since expanded to Round Lake, North Chicago, Beach Park and Zion.

Success By 6 develops and invests in early learning programs that empower families and ensure children are ready for the future. The comprehensive programming includes Early Learning Clubs providing free workshops, tips and materials to empower parents to be their child’s first teacher; Home Visiting delivering early learning and health literacy intervention services to the homes of high-risk children; Kindergarten Countdown Camp offering special camps for children who have never been to preschool to boost their skills over the summer; Kindergarten Readiness Calendars inspiring parents as they teach their preschool-age children; Early Learning Trails developing academic readiness while encouraging active movement and play; and Better Together engaging North Chicago families with children birth to three years old to build early literacy and learning skills.

To learn more about the Success By 6 initiative, visit www.LIVEUNITEDlakecounty.org.

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