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Building blocks: it's kindergarten prep taken to a whole new level, where getting the teachers and parents ready is just as important as educating students.

There's a new school of thought about reading. It may not be big news to literacy specialists, but other educators are catching on. Literacy isn't a switch that can be flipped on in first grade. It s more like a dimmer that gradually brightens from children's early years. Preschools can lay the groundwork for lifelong literacy success.

"Nationally, we are in the middle of a big shift with educators beginning to understand the links between preschool, kindergarten and literacy development, but this isn't emphasized in many preschools," says Cathy Roller, director of research and policy for the International Reading Association.

Seattle Public Schools is one of a handful of districts in the nation that are giving private preschools a helping hand by facilitating seemingly modest changes in the preschool environment to fuel early reading skills. Instead of struggling to catch up in kindergarten and first grade, students in Seattle Early Reading First preschools start off on the right foot, says Dan Coles, the district's literacy program manager.

Started in 2003 and funded by a three-year, $3 million federal grant, the program approaches kindergarten readiness comprehensively--by improving teacher training, reshaping classrooms and curriculum, supporting parents as children's first teachers and building relationships between the district and preschools. It makes sense that Seattle, a city that has earmarked $103 million for its Families and Education program, would be involved in such an effort.

It Takes a Village

The brainchild of City of Seattle Family and Youth Services Division and professors at Shoreline Community College, Early Reading First works because of its participants' common mission--to help every child become an efficient reader and writer.

The teachers had to be open to change and information sharing. For example, kindergarten and preschool teachers attended a kindergarten transition course together. Sonja Griffin, the SERF project manager for Seattle, says this time spent establishing relationships among partners was crucial.

Besides the district, city and community college, partners include the public library, the department of public health and five independent preschools--Jose Marti, Toddler Tech, Sea Mar, Zion Prep and Community Day--serving 240 students.
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Title Annotation:District Profile
Author:Fratt, Lisa
Publication:District Administration
Geographic Code:1U9WA
Date:Feb 1, 2005
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Next Article:First steps to literacy.

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