The Inclusive Schools Network interviewed Kim Hammer, Director of the Bear Blvd School for Early Learning in Spring Branch ISD, an expert on early intervention and education for the February "Ask the Expert" segment.
Q1: What are the benefits of Early Childhood education services for parents and students?
A1: Nearly every educational benchmark (on grade level, staying in school, etc.) is related to school readiness. Ensuring that a solid academic and social/behavioral foundation is established is a benefit of Early Childhood services. Pre-Kindergarten is provided as an intervention to level the playing field for all children as they begin formal education. Quality Early Childhood services should include:
- Supportive interactions between service providers and children
- Safe, supportive and engaging learning environments
- Focus on whole child development
- Evidence of authentic assessment and continuous learning
- Connections to family and community
- Effective administration
It’s important to look through the scope of what’s ahead. If you are experiencing success don’t lull into complacency, but build on that success by analyzing areas of need and planning accordingly. Our reach must always exceed our grasp!
Q2: What are the most critical factors that positively impact a student’s attitude, behavior and social development?
A2: A healthy relationship between child, family, and service provider(s) is critical. By providing high quality early childhood education emphasizing social development we can reduce rate of challenging behavior and become a protective factor for children at risk for future difficulties. Family and service provider skills in areas of communication, behavior, and social competence can be developed through training and follow-up technical assistance so that problem solving and pro-social skills are intentionally taught and modeled within context.
Q3: How can educators successfully use assessments or progress monitoring instruments to evaluate a student’s progress?
A3: Formative and summative assessments should provide snapshots of student progress in achieving objectives over time. It’s important to make sure that assessments are done when children are engaged in meaningful tasks within context. Assessments give the most useful information when they are aligned with instruction. Quality assessment information should guide instructional planning, grouping and implementation to optimize student outcomes.
Q4: Define “developmentally appropriate learning environment” and explain how the learning environment impacts student engagement and inclusion opportunities.
A4: All young children learn, engage, and collaborate best when the environment is:
- nurturing and safe;
- arranged in meaningful learning centers with multiple opportunities for choices and variety of materials;
- discovery-oriented and project-based; and
- well-maintained and appropriate in meeting individual needs.
Learning environments that best support inclusion opportunities provide children with access, participation, and support. An environment that offers access to learning opportunities and activities across a variety of settings sets the stage for responsible inclusion. Adults that promote belonging, participation and engagement of children with disabilities and typical peers in a variety of ways foster collaborative inclusive relationships. Practices and supports that ensure staff is prepared to support the needs of children and their families provide a framework that increases the likelihood of rigorous and relevant engagement as well as responsible and respectful inclusion.
Q5: How important is family involvement in a child’s instruction?
A5: Family involvement is essential in promoting student achievement. Young children learn best actively and within context. Learning takes place in and out of school. As family and school alignment increases so does learning. Family responsiveness to support their child’s learning can be positively influenced through interpersonal relationships that respect the culture, values, and languages of each home. The following three concepts of family involvement are critical to a child’s educational success:
- Practice regular school attendance – a life skill that begins in PK
- Expect that your child will make progress every year, monitor their development and support growth
- Reinforce your child’s attainment over time – set high expectations for your child to achieve from year to year