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New in-home, early education program designed to help children succeed

Springfield City Schools has received a grant to start a new pilot program aimed at preparing children and their families for kindergarten before they step foot in an actual class.

Supporting Partnerships to Assure Ready Kids is a family-focused, in-home program with the goal of improving children’s transitions into elementary education. Program coordinators — called Parent Partners — facilitate monthly, in-home sessions where they work directly to prepare 4-year-olds and their parents on school readiness by giving the participants structured activities and monitoring their success through evaluations.

Kindergarten students at Perrin Woods and Lincoln elementary schools — where the SPARK program will begin — consistently score below state averages when it comes to elementary education readiness, school officials said.

“One of the biggest hurdles we have is children who start the race behind,” said Mike Wilson, principal at Lincoln Elementary in Springfield. “We are excited about this and hopeful that it will fulfill a missing piece we have in our system.”

SPARK was founded in 2003 by the Sisters of Charity in Canton, and is now run by the Early Childhood Resource Center in nine counties across the state. In evaluations of SPARK students compared to those not in the program, participants have outperformed non-SPARK children who entered the same school at the same time in the state’s Kindergarten Readiness Assessment for Literacy tests since 2005, according to SPARK data analysis.

In it’s first year in Springfield, SPARK organizers hope they can service between 25 and 50 families. The children and families who will attend kindergarten classes at Perrin Woods or Lincoln elementaries beginning in the fall of 2015 will be eligible to sign up as part of the program, which is set to start in July.

SPARK will be run by a collaboration of Clark County organizations. Springfield City Schools and WellSpring will work together to facilitate the program, and various foundations and donors have made pledges to fund the project.

The Wilson Sheehan Foundation provided the initial grant to the elementary schools involved and has committed to funding the program through its three-year pilot program. The foundation is also finalizing commitments from other donors in order to keep it running into the future, said Maureen Massaro of the Wilson Sheehan Foundation.

WellSpring plans to hire two Parent Partners by mid-May, said Richele Shepard, the director of WellSpring who will be overseeing the SPARK program. WellSpring and Springfield school officials will work closely together in the program, Shepard added.

In Perrin Woods and Lincoln elementary schools, where Springfield Promise Neighborhood programs are already in place, the SPARK program will work hand-in-hand to help fulfill the Promise’s “cradle to college” education model, said Wilson.

SPARK and Promise both aim to give children growing up in Springfield the tools they need to succeed in life, with education and community being just two pieces of a larger puzzle, said Sarah Dixon, Promise Neighborhood coordinator at Perrin Woods Elementary. But SPARK will have a large impact on children’s lives and future success because it involves engaging parents and the community early on in child’s education process, she added.

SPARK will be an opportunity for the schools involved to provide supplies and training to families of children before official, in-school education begins. If students are more-prepared upon entering kindergarten, schools could save time, resources and money allotted to helping children who are behind from the start, said Bob Welker, Promise Neighborhood coordinator at Lincoln Elementary.

Through the monthly meetings and other gatherings of SPARK participants, parents and children will continually find assurance and will know if they are creating the right educational atmosphere in their homes, Welker said.

SPARK coordinators said children also benefit by early detection and referrals to community resources for children who discover they have social, behavioral, vision or speech needs before entering school.

Parents or those interested in more information about the SPARK program can contact WellSpring.

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