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April 12, 2007

Preparing Children and Parents for School

[This entry was contributed by guest blogger Marissa Castro Mikoy, the director of the Universal Pre-Kindergarten Incentive Program at CentroNía, an educational community-based organization in Washington, D.C.]

Transitioning to kindergarten in Washington, D.C., is not the easiest process in the world. Public charter schools, neighborhood public schools, private schools, "out of boundary" schools... For parents, learning the differences between schools and what those differences might mean for their child is key to answering the million-dollar question, Where should my child go to school?

At CentroNía, we make a concerted effort to help families find the answer. Working with and supporting all our pre-k families, especially immigrant families, has proven to be helpful and rewarding. After the transition process, I've noticed that parents are typically more confident and, in turn, more likely to participate in school meetings or to simply schedule a meeting with their child’s kindergarten teacher.

A family involvement project at CentroNía So, what does our transition process entail? Well, we start by preparing individualized transitions packets for parents. Each packet contains a neighborhood map with plotted color-coded points representing the child's eligible public school, the closest public charter schools, and private schools in the neighborhood. We also provide contact information and school statistics for each school on the map.

Next, we host two breakfast meetings for parents to drop in, pick up their transitions packets, and grab a meal. Our resident CentroNía "transitions experts" are available at these meetings to talk one-on-one with parents, helping them to review the information in their packets, understand the differences between each school in depth, and even complete charter school applications.

More individual attention follows our breakfast events, for I've found that even afterwards there are parents who have more questions but feel intimidated by the thought of calling a school's principal or counselor. I often meet with parents to coach them on starting a dialogue with a school and, in some cases, to serve as a translator.

With individualized guidance and support, a child and his or her family can transition smoothly from pre-k to kindergarten and beyond. Research continues to show that family involvement demonstrates to children the value of their education and their families' role in it. This process should be a partnership with families, and I think we, at CentroNía and across the early childhood community, are proving how that can be done. Pre-k's ability to give children and parents critical skills and confidence is a huge reason why these programs are an important first step in improving K-12 education.

I would love to hear what other communities are doing by way of transitions work. Please post a comment with your ideas or thoughts.

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