GOSHEN — Crossroads United Way officials are hoping a new kindergarten readiness initiative announced this week will help to engage local families and help improve the skill development of children entering Goshen Community Schools.
Central to the new initiative is Page the Puppy, star of a series of four bilingual books in English and Spanish and activity kits that are being distributed at no cost to incoming Goshen Community Schools kindergartners and their families.
“Every student should enter kindergarten with the skills they need to succeed,” said Mona Livingston, director of community impact at Crossroads United Way. “Page the Puppy puts free, easy-to-use resources in the home of every incoming kindergarten student,”
According to Livingston, Crossroads United Way began looking into ways to establish such a program back in 2019, when the nonprofit learned from area schools that as many as 50% of the children entering kindergarten at the time did not have the necessary social-emotional skills to be successful.
“That was a shocking statistic for us, where half the children did not have these simple skills like sharing, waiting their turn, etc. So, we started thinking about, ‘What can we do to change this?’” Livingston said. “We ended up getting a grant from Early Learning Indiana in January of last year specifically targeting kindergarten readiness. So, we started working on ideas, and created a plan.”
Given the grant’s limited funding, Livingston said the nonprofit, which serves Elkhart, LaGrange and Noble counties, decided to start small by partnering first with Goshen Community Schools.
“We have a Gr8t Beginnings Early Childhood Coalition, and we have representation from Goshen and Elkhart schools on that coalition. So, I put out there if someone would like to partner with us on the project, and Goshen was interested and on board right away,” Livingston said. “So, we went with them.”
To get started, the nonprofit approached Goshen teachers and high-quality early childhood educators and asked them what skills they felt were most important to ensure that children entering kindergarten are ready to learn.
The nonprofit then used a portion of the ELI grant to purchase the copyright to the Page the Puppy books, written by Debbie Ackerman and illustrated by Rebecca Skalsky, and began the process of modifying the books to include lessons on the top skills identified by the local educators.
Once the books had been modified and printed, Livingston said the nonprofit had initially planned on distributing the books through different reading camps and social events scheduled over the course of 2020, though the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 put a swift halt to those plans.
In their place, the nonprofit has decided to go with a much more streamlined approach, and instead has enlisted the help of Goshen Community Schools this spring to distribute Page the Puppy books and activity kits to all district parents and families who come in to sign their children up for kindergarten.
“So, that’s the approach we went with. We came up with the four books, and each of these books have the top 10 skills that the Goshen school teachers voted on as being the top-most skills,” Livingston said, noting that student volunteers from Goshen High School’s National Honor Society recently helped assemble 500 kits for incoming kindergarteners. “We piloted this project in Goshen because the grant funding was limited, but our goal is to have it in all three of our counties eventually, and every school district that wants to participate in the program.”
Livingston noted that this year’s pilot program is sponsored by Early Learning Indiana, Keystone RV and PNC Bank.
The nonprofit plans to expand the program to other local school districts in 2022.
To learn more about the program, visit crossroadsuw.org/page.