While our first two Open Houses focused on the Full-Service Community Schools work happening in middle and high schools, the latest shined a light on support for our youngest learners, the students in Oakland's preschools. A big thanks to all who joined OUSD Deputy Chief of Early Learning Ray Mondragon, the Ed Fund, and the staff at United Nation Child Development Center for an inspiring evening showcasing the work being done by early childhood staff, students, and families as OUSD prepares every young learner to enter kindergarten smart and strong.
The importance of early childhood education has always been apparent, but data also tells a compelling story. Study after study underscores the long-term advantage of entering the earliest grades ready to learn, especially as they approach 3rd grade: a student reading at grade level in 3rd grade is four times more likely to graduate from high school than one who has fallen behind.
OUSD also recognizes that education—in early childhood and beyond—is not just a matter of strict academics. Just as K-12 Oakland schools emphasize whole-child learning, so do the District's preschools, focusing on social-emotional development, creativity, healthy eating, fitness, and family engagement in addition to reading, math, and science.
To this end, the Open House offered breakout sessions highlighting some of the different ways OUSD is preparing preschoolers to be kindergarten-ready:
• Literacy Lab
• The Oakland Starting Smart and Strong Initiative
• General Education and Special Education Collaboration
• Early Childhood Education enrollment
• New Teacher Center
• OUSD's participation in First 5 Alameda's Quality Rating Improvement System (QRIS)
See photos below from the sessions.
The breakout session on reading highlighted the presence of Literacy Lab learning stations in all 55 pre-K sites. Using Literacy Lab, Oakland's preschool students were exposed to eight million words in 2015-16, and through its innovative blend of texting, tablets, and other tools, the program is seeing great success in creating customized reading support for students and their families, particularly English Language Learners.
“I’m excited to [bring] Literacy Lab to libraries," said Laurie Willhalm of the Oakland Public Library. "We’re already supporting this [Early Childhood Education] work with storytimes and playgroups, but the more connections we can make the better.”
To see OUSD's Early Childhood Education in action, check out the video below featuring the voices of students, parents, Childhood Development Center teachers, District leaders, funders, and more. We also encourage you to check out this video profiling Teacher DaMonica Robinson and the way she supports social-emotional learning in her classroom.
During the UC CalFresh Nutrition session, we learned low OUSD's preschoolers are building an early understanding of healthy eating and environmental awareness. Through the Harvest of the Month program, schools enjoy monthly fruit and vegetable tastings, along with simple healthy recipes they can try at home with their families. Meanwhile, in 17 school gardens across the city, students are getting hands-on knowledge about growing their own food, composting, and recycling. On the strength of these experiences, teachers and parents say students are making healthier choices, actively asking for fruits and veggies, and getting in touch with the natural world at an early age. Thank you to UC CalFresh Nutrition for this critical partnership!
During its breakout session, the Oakland Starting Smart and Strong Initiative (OSSSI) shared its vision for "creating universal access to high-quality early learning" over the next decade.
Launched in 2014, the Initiative draws on the collaborative work of funders, community advocates, family service providers, and more to help Oakland kids start kindergarten smart and strong. Among the progress already made, OSSSI has connected every ECE teacher with a coach, thanks to the generous funding of the David & Lucille Packard Foundation. Through OSSSI, OUSD now also has, for the first time, the ability to assess kindergarten readiness for all incoming students, as well as staff in place to look at data to help plan professional development for teachers and help ECE sites improve.
Reflecting on the Packard Foundation's partnership with OUSD thus far, one Open House guest praised Oakland's collaborative approach and dynamic balance of play, social-emotional development, and strong academic skill-building. As the group discussed, this unique vision for Early Childhood Education could soon become a model for other districts.
All of the work showcased at the Open House is being noticed. Recently, 18 of OUSD’s 28 early childhood sites earn a 4 out of 5 “Quality Counts” rating.
“It made a big difference when Ray [Mondragon] was hired in his role [Deputy Chief of Early Learning] at the District level," said ECE Site Administrator Ofelia Asencios-Mendoza. "The position and all the support mechanisms that came with it have been wonderful… [this Open House] was an awesome overview of all the wonderful things occurring in the ECE department. Even as an inside person I feel like ‘Wow, this is what we’re doing and how they all connect’...It’s really good to see.”
Thank you again to all who joined us for this in-depth glimpse into the inspiring work happening on our preschool campuses!