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Ready for School Director Happy to be part of Pro-Education Continuum

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52447c12f0068Pat VerDuin
Pat VerDuin

If Cradle to Career can do for K-13 what Ready For School is doing for preschool, it won’t be long before post-secondary education attainment rates in the Holland/Zeeland area are on the rise.

Pat VerDuin, executive director of Ready For School, hopes the community thrusts its support behind Cradle to Career, which would extend the support preschoolers and their parents get through her program.

“This community is rich in resources, but often parents don’t know how to navigate to what’s available,” VerDuin said. “We help the 0 to 5 set get there. There are other supports for older children. It’s wonderful what this community is doing for children.”

Ready For School, which has its roots in an economic development initiative, targets its efforts on getting children ready for kindergarten. The program is cited statewide as a “best practices” model. It is funded by a W.K. Kellogg grant.

The grassroots initiative began five years ago by working with educators in five local school districts to develop a standardized kindergarten screening tool. Based on that tool, fewer than half of incoming kindergartners the following year had the early academic, social, emotional and developmental skills deemed important for starting school.

Ready For School set a goal 75 percent of incoming kindergartners meeting the readiness criteria by 2015.

“It is a lofty goal,” VerDuin acknowledged. “Now we’re up to 62 percent ready. I have confidence we’ll make it.”

The initiative began by spelling out for parents what skills screeners look for to determine whether a child is ready for school. Does he or she know his full name, age and birthday? Does he take turns and share? Can he identify colors, shapes, numbers and letters and write his first name?

Many parents are unaware that children are expected to know so much before they start school. The agency runs a series of free parent training events called Home Before School.

Since a parent survey indicated physicians are a trusted source for information, Ready For School is partnering with to distribute school readiness materials in English and Spanish.

In fall 2012, Ready for School launched Reach Out and Read Lakeshore, which provides age-appropriate books that pediatricians throughout the city give to children at well-child checkups.

“This is the start of a personal library,” VerDuin said. “And it makes the connection between literacy and healthy development.”

Ready for School also developed early childhood education materials for churches and schools to distribute. This summer, agency personnel handed out literature, along with free ice cream, to young families in neighborhoods.

But literature is not enough, VerDuin said.

Through its Bright Beginnings program, Ready For School provides a registered nurse and a community health worker  to evaluate children at the Holland Area Health Center and Intercare to make sure they’re achieving developmental milestones.

Ready For School also helps families enroll in preschool and -- in some cases – to pay for it.

Because the percentage of lakeshore area families living in poverty has grown, the state of Michigan has added more local seats in the Great Start Readiness Program, free preschool opportunities.

For those on the waiting list, Ready For School pays the area average for tuition ($1,000 per year) to other preschool programs.

Twelve preschoolers with factors that make them at risk for academic difficulty attended a program in mid-town Holland designed to prevent the “summer slide.”

Three-day Kinder Kamps were held in August to give 625 incoming kindergartners a chance to meet their teachers and learn school routines before the first day of school.

Ready For School also launched Ready, Set, Talk to benefit 18 children with speech delays. A speech therapist was contracted to give small group lessons held at the Boys & Girls Club’s south Holland location.

“We’re saturating Holland with the message that early childhood education is important,” VerDuin said.

The importance of graduating high school and going on to college or other post-secondary training is next on the list.