Campus: CSU Bakersfield -- October 17, 2005

Pre-school literacy project update

A celebration to mark the beginning of the "Preschool Literacy Project:Building Blocks for Reading Success" program in the Bakersfield City School District is scheduled Thursday (Oct. 20) at Bessie Owens Elementary School.

The literacy program is a collaboration between California State University, Bakersfield; the Bakersfield City School District; Houghton Mifflin and Chevron to increase the literacy skills of preschool children within the BCSD. Earlier this year, Chevron gave $600,000 to fund the program.

"It's clear that positive early childhood experiences set the stage for life-long success - in the classroom and beyond," said Chevron San Joaquin Valley Business Unit Vice President Warner Williams. "We're proud to support programs like the Preschool Literacy Project that deliver sustained benefits to the Bakersfield community."

The project is expected to help alleviate a critical problem that has been identified locally. The impact within the district should be demonstrated within one to two years with children entering kindergarten with significantly higher emergent literacy skills.

As part of ongoing community efforts, BCSD, CSUB, and Houghton Mifflin created the Preschool Literacy Project to address the problem at the earliest stage of education - preschool.

"This is an enormously important project for our region," said CSUB President Horace Mitchell. "By targeting children at an early age, we will be able to place them on the track to a lifetime of success."

"This project lays the foundation for essential emergent literacy skills," said Jean Fuller, BCSD superintendent. "Research indicates that children need certain pre-literacy skills from recognizing the front and back of a book to recognizing letters of the alphabet. This project will tap into the existing strong preschool programs and help children be ready to learn how to read on their first day of kindergarten."

"Through these partnerships we hope to increase the number of students who attend college. Not only will that improve the quality of their lives, but also it will improve the quality of our local economy," Mitchell said.

Geri Mohler, the CSUB education professor who is directing the program, said literacy coaches have been working with BCSD preschool teachers and conducting on-going assessments to customize instruction. Additionally, preschool teachers and parents are learning techniques on early-literacy instruction, assessment methods and how to use in-home resources as teaching tools.

"The pre-k teachers and coaches had training in the new curriculum by the Houghton Mifflin trainers, and the coaches are prepared to work with the preschool teachers," Mohler said. "We have three literacy coaches who are in the classroom one day a week. There are 22 classrooms, so two coaches have eight teachers and one has six. "

"The coaches are the key to this entire program. The curriculum is excellent and they're working with the very knowledgeable teachers on how to use it most effectively. It's kind of new for the teachers because they've never had a day-by-day, minute-by-minute plan. They're trying to take the curriculum and use it in their program. It seems to be working well."

It's also new for the coaches, she said. "The coaches have had a lot of professional development, and they're learning what the role of the coach is."

Each day the coaches e-mail Mohler reports on the things they do in the classroom and provide assessments on the Houghton Mifflin curriculum. The teachers also are doing the assessments they typically do, she said, "so we have a lot of information developed on all 500 children participating in the program."

Mohler said the program hasn't been without some snags. "Initially, there was some confusion about the role of the coach," she said. "The coach is there for the teacher more than for the kids. So even though the coaches work with the kids, their job is to work with the teacher, to help the teacher integrate more literacy into the program.

"The BCSD has a great program for social and emotional needs of the children, and now we're integrating more literacy skills development. The teachers are doing names of letters and sounds of letters, working with rhyming words and the first sounds of words. Kids don't always understand that words are based on sounds, so we try to get them to understand that the letter stands for the sound within that word."

The coaches are credentialed teachers who have master's degrees or are working on master's degrees in literacy, Mohler said. All of the preschool teachers have associates degrees and some have bachelor's degrees and teaching credentials.

"The children are picking up things, recognizing words that rhyme," she said. "They're excited about learning the sounds and recognizing letters. Because there are more literacy opportunities, they are picking things up quickly."

Mohler said she'll have a more accurate assessment of the program's success next fall when the first cohort of children enters kindergarten. She anticipates a significant difference. "The teachers always know the children who have been to preschool," she said. "Those kids are more able to do what is expected in kindergarten, and the others have to catch up."

And she's excited about what she sees happening. "The knowledge and experience of the preschool teachers combined with the knowledge and experience of the literacy coaches - that's what is making a difference for the children. I see that working. We're taking an existing preschool program and injecting more into it using the coaching model. I don't want to say it's unique, but it's certainly a new approach, one that we think is trend-setting."

Fuller, the BCSD superintendent, is pleased with what she sees. "The preschool literacy program provided by Chevron and CSUB has been immensely helpful to the students and teachers at BCSD," she said.

Contacts:
Mike Stepanovich, 661-654-2456, mstepanovich@csub.edu,
Jaclyn Loveless, 661-654-2138, jloveless@csub.edu


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