School Spotlight: Preschool at River Breeze Elementary
By Jan Bennett
This week, State of the Re:Union would like to entertain our School Spotlight series with a recently required concept in preschool. The subject matter, preschool, is a notion that has actually been around and in use for quite some time. However, it is the mandate of incorporating it into the public school system that is making an old hat seem like a new accessory to education.
Thanks to the award-winning documentary “Early Lessons” by Emily Hanford, the River Breeze Elementary school was brought to our attention. However, a little bit of background information will need to be laid out before getting to why we chose them for this week’s School Spotlight.
Hanford’s documentary explores one of the most noted education experiments of the last 50 years, the Perry Preschool Project. One particular question asked in the 1962 study was: “Can preschool boost the IQ scores of poor African-American children and prevent them from failing in school?” According to Hanford, “the surprising results are now challenging widely-held notions about what helps people succeed – in school, and in life.”
A brief background of the study: In the late 1950s, a Michigan school system administrator, David Weikart, realized how badly these children were doing and decided to do something about it. In lieu of holding them back a year, he decided to head off the situation and start a preschool dedicated to helping 3- and 4-year-olds become smarter. After successfully proving Weikart’s case, the notion of cognitive development in the form of hands-on preschool was born. (To read more on the Perry Preschool results, click here.)
Forward to our School Spotlight today – a preschool classroom at River Breeze Elementary in Palatka, Florida. Here, school administrators and preschool teachers embrace the practices that were founded by Weikart. They believe that through interacting with children in the same hands-on learning manner as Perry Preschool, they will achieve similar, if not the same, results. Like the Perry children, these kids are being targeted for special education coming into the River Breeze preschool program who are from poor families. Some of these little ones have lived at homes with absolutely no books, and don’t say much when starting the program. However, these preschoolers soon get over their lack of artful conversation. One mother was surprised when her “quiet” child began singing the ABCs all the time. She even asked her child’s preschool teacher what she did to help her learn to find and use her voice.
All members of the River Breeze preschool program are very interactive. There are seven different areas that the classroom is divided into, and these areas contain just a few children at a time. The teachers not only watch the children learn through “getting dirty” with the hands-on learning, but they get to partake in the fun, too. Through doing this, the teachers can learn how the children are learning and customize an educational experience that will specifically target each child. This interaction also instills a positive school experience for the children, helping develop both their cognitive and non-cognitive skills.
River Breeze preschool is modeled after the same approach used by the Perry Preschool. Children involved in the hands-on approach not only learn the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic, but important life coping and social skills, including motivation and the ability to work with others. These are the skills that are critical in helping people do well at school, at work, and most importantly, in life.
The families, children and teachers at River Breeze Elementary are happily taking a few pages out of the Perry Preschool Project study. They truly believe that, for them, this hands-on approach is what works for their children deserving a chance in successfully obtaining an education. They are also encouraged by the results yielded by the Perry Preschool Project: The participants in the study who went to preschool were more likely to be employed, making money, staying out of legal trouble, owning homes and cars, having families and being involved with them. All of this success allowed little time for these men and women to get mixed up in crime. Ere go, preschool helped cut the crime rate in half.
So, I guess all of the posters touting that everything we need to know is learned in kindergarten might need to have an alternate version printed with Pre-K, instead. With all of the controversy on broken policy shrouding our educational school systems, maybe more people should follow suit after River Breeze Elementary preschool teachers and administrators. With any luck, history will repeat itself for these families as they look to the past to get to their future.
Is this a possible solution that is feasible for the whole country? Some people are of the mind that children need a childhood and that school is too stressful. Others believe that there can never be enough school, and it is never too early to begin. What wheelhouse do you belong in? Is there such a thing as too early or too much? Or do you think that might be part of the prescription that our nation needs to inoculate itself against F-Cats, falling educational scores, and the excessive dropout rate? We at SOTRU love stories that help us understand others’ points of view. If you have one, we’d love to hear it.