Success at Six aims to give kids a jumpstart
VAIL – Who would have thought that you really do learn everything you need to know in kindergarten? While that may be an exaggeration, you certainly learn a lot when you’re six years old. The Success at Six program, therefore, aims to send kindergartners to school full-time who would otherwise not be able to afford it, says Melinda Gladitsch, who writes grants for the Eagle County School District. “It’s an ounce of prevention rather than a pound of care,” says Gladitsch.Unlike most states in which kindergarten classes meet as often as other grades, Colorado only funds kindergarten half-time. Fifty-eight percent of the states in America fund full-time kindergarten, but Colorado is one of 19 that does not, says Gladitsch. Instead, kindergartners spend only half of the week in class.”Eagle County schools said ‘We need to do something about this,'” says Natalia Hanks, director of development and membership at the nonprofit Vail Valley Foundation, which works with the school district to fund “Success at Six.”
High demandThe district began an after-school program that allows kids to stay in school full-time. The only problem is that it costs $250 per month, which non everyone in the valley can afford to pay, says Hanks.The Vail Valley Foundation hopes to make it possible for every child to attend the after-school enrichment program, says Hanks.There is a very high demand for the scholarships, and “Success at Six” hopes to pay for over 200 students to enter the after-school program, says Gladitsch. “What we find is that the kids who need it the most – so they have the readiness to succeed in school – very often cannot afford it,” adds Carolyn Neff, director of elementary education for the Eagle County school district. Earlier this year, when the Vail Valley Foundation discovered the need for financial assistance, they raised money to provide 32 scholarships for the 2004-05 school year. Much of the foundation’s contributions come from fund-raising events like the Black Diamond Ball and individuals who “understand the importance of these community initiatives,” says Hanks.
Currently, the Vail Valley Foundation has secured 90 scholarships for next year, and their goal is to get 120 by April 1, says Hanks. The Eagle County school district matches the Vail Valley Foundation’s efforts, which could provide about 250 after-school enrichment scholarships for the 2005-06 school year if the foundation reaches its goal, says Hanks.Reflected in the scoresBut Is it worth it? “Yes, (the students) really had higher academic achievement going into first-grade,” says Gladitsch. Organizers have called the program “a dramatic success.”
Based on the annual literacy test results of kindergartners and first-graders from 2002-03, students in half-day classes made a 40 point average gain, while those in full-day classes made a 95 point average gain, says Neff. Last year, full-time students scored an average of 66 points higher than half-time students. “We see that every time when we look at test scores. Full-time kids are there twice as long, their scores reflect that,” says Neff. Many of the scholarship recipients speak Spanish as their first language, and have more difficulty during early learning stages. The increased exposure to the English language through the after-school program prepares them for first-grade and simultaneously helps them pick up a tremendous amount of English, says Neff.Neff also believes attention to educationin kindergarten and first-grade is critical to a student’s future academic achievement, she says. “If you can get them ready to learn early on, they are more able to succeed later on,” she says. Vail, Colorado