A series featuring communities that have a plan to expand preschool.
Lawrence is one of five Massachusetts communities implementing the federal Preschool Expansion Grant. This high-quality model funds 10 preschool classrooms for 130 of Lawrence’s children. The community also has a three-year strategic plan for further preschool expansion. Beyond serving more children, the plan includes cataloguing all local early education programs, engaging families in program planning, and creating a data sharing platform to help programs and agencies collaborate to serve children and families.
In Lawrence, the key components of school readiness for our 1,500 preschool and kindergarten children include connecting with families positively and early on; collaborating with community agencies in order to support children and teachers, as well as building systems for transitioning into the public schools; and supporting the whole child as well as the whole family so that we can improve stability for our families.
The Lawrence Public Schools system is dedicated to creating unique and dynamic opportunities for our children and families to connect with learning, with schools, and with resources. This work hinges on community partnerships that foster thoughtful and intentional collaborations across multiple organizations and agencies.
Our city-wide conversations about the many elements of “school readiness” are becoming a common fixture as we collaborate to develop shared practices, plan events, and co-create transition tools. The city of Lawrence was fortunate to receive the Preschool Expansion Grant in 2015. This grant drives much of the work we are doing as a city, such as: supporting inclusive practices across all agencies; enrolling and engaging hard to find families and at-risk children; developing parent engagement activities that balance capacity-building for all stakeholders; and, of course, providing joyful and rigorous opportunities for our children to learn the habits of mind and body that lead to success.
A priority for our public schools is to enroll children into preschool and kindergarten early — and to provide schools and families with the opportunity to connect for tours, events, and playgroups. All families who enroll in preschool or kindergarten in May and June will be invited to participate in ongoing school-readiness playgroups that are facilitated by trained PEG parents.
Families are also invited to our Lawrence Learns Block Party in August. The playgroups and the block party are carefully designed to pull back the curtain on early education so our families, many of whom are new to the country, can better understand our preschool and kindergarten opportunities and expectations. At the Block Party, each school will have a table for principals and staff to meet their newest students. More than a dozen community partners will also host activities and provide information about resources for our shared families.
When thinking about school readiness, we are thinking about all our children and the variety of paths that may lead them to our public schools. At the same time, partners and agency leaders are meeting to plan for inclusion and to develop processes related to the special education referral and evaluation process. To accomplish this, we run joint professional development opportunities, share best practices, and build programs that will support a variety of student and lead to improved opportunities for all our families.
School readiness, at its core, simply means that children and families are prepared for school, that they have information about what happens and what to expect. Our responsibility as educators and caretakers is to put down the welcome mat and ensure that what we do is thoughtful, engaging, and explicit.
Submitted by: Jessica MacLeod, Early Childhood Education Manager, Lawrence Public Schools