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Alabama Pilot Program Aims to Connect Learning From Pre-K Through 3rd Grade

The state of Alabama has started a pilot program that aims to increase academic achievement for young learners by increasing collaboration between early childhood teachers.

The program is part of Strong Start, Strong Finish, a new education initiative introduced last month by Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, a Republican.

ALPreschoolClass.jpgEight schools in five different districts are participating in the pilot program known as the Alabama Pre-K-through-Third-Grade Integrated Approach to Early Learning. Each school has a pre-K program on campus and will be assigned an instructional coach to help guide the teachers. The schools were selected from a pool of applicants participating in the Alabama Pre-K-3 Leadership Academy, which launched last month. All eight of the schools will also receive a $15,000 grant to purchase classroom materials and improve early-learning experiences. The idea is to expose the children to more active learning, so fewer worksheets and more hands-on activities.

"If we haven't given our students a strong learning foothold by the third grade, they will be fighting an uphill battle for the rest of their educational careers; this program addresses that truth head-on," said Ivey in a news release.

Alabama Initiative Builds Ties between Prekindergarten and Elementary Teachers 

Through the program, teachers and administrators from pre-K through 3rd grade will align and coordinate academic standards as well as instructional practices, professional development, and assessments.

The teachers will also hold joint planning sessions designed to allow them to share best practices.

Jeana Ross is the secretary of the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education.

She says she expects the pilot to provide better continuity from grade to grade and better communication among stakeholders at each level.

"Broadly, what we would like to see is a seamless learning continuum from pre-K to 3rd grade, so that the children can be more successful in school," said Ross.

Although this pilot is just getting underway, Ross says the idea came from what state leaders were seeing on some campuses between pre-K teachers and their peers who taught kindergarten through 3rd grade.

"They began visiting each other's classrooms," said Ross. "They began informally meeting after school, sharing materials and supplies and ideas. That's the type of culture that we'd like to see happen."

The program takes a three-prong approach to make this happen by focusing on assessment, instruction, and leadership. The Alabama Pre-K-3 Leadership Academy is designed to teach administrators at the elementary level about child development and how young children learn best. Alabama is the first state to try this pilot program for principals, which is supported by the state Department of Early Childhood Education, the Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, and the American Institutes for Research.

These initiatives are just the latest in Alabama's quest to provide its youngest citizens with high-quality early childhood education. The state has been nationally recognized for its work in the field. This year it was one of two states to meet all 10 new benchmarks for preschool program quality set by the National Institute for Early Education Research, or NIEER. The other was Rhode Island.

Photo: An Alabama preschool classroom awaits students. Courtesy Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education


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