Round Lake kindergarten readiness initiative to start at birth
A new initiative to better prepare students for kindergarten in Round Lake Unit District 116 literally will be starting at the source.
As of Jan. 1, parents of newborns at Advocate Condell Medical Center and Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital will be enlisted as their child's first teachers to ensure they are ready for kindergarten by the time they are five years old.
"Our goal is to register students into the district at birth at the hospital," said Eric Apgar, District 116 assistant superintendent for educational services.
Parents will be provided with early literacy and other resources to support their child's academic development.
"We've connected with the labor and delivery departments at the hospitals. As part of birth certificate signing process ... they will have the opportunity to enroll in our project," Apgar said, adding that he expects about 100 families to enroll the first year.
The Mountaintop Project, launched Tuesday, has developed over the past few years in coordination with the kindergarten readiness committee of the Round Lake-based Bringing Everyone's Strengths Together (BEST) community organization.
The committee began its work after learning 95 percent of District 116 students entering kindergarten were not ready, according to Judy Armstrong, who served as chair for six years before recently stepping down.
The committee and supporting agencies over the past four years held public forums to raise awareness of the issue, increased the number of early interventions and took other actions. The numbers of those not ready for kindergarten has declined, Armstrong said, but a long-term solution is needed.
"That change of the needle has occurred without a professional, integrated approach to letting people know about the services," she said. "I'm really excited about the potential."
The name Mountaintop Project comes from a story shared by Lake County State's Attorney Mike Nerheim at an early education forum, Armstrong said.
Villagers working in the fields by a river noticed a baby floating downstream. More followed. Villagers worked to save them and integrate them into the life of the village but it wasn't possible to save them all. The solution was to find the source to eliminate the cause of the problem.
District 116 and BEST are going to the figurative mountaintop to support and empower parents using the existing web of services in schools, agencies and the community, Armstrong said.
Key to the success will be a child development liaison who will meet with families, including home visits, and be the link between the parents and support systems to remove obstacles to the child's development. Parents also will be trained to promote the academic, social and physical development of their child.
"Without BEST, this wouldn't be possible," Apgar said.
There are about 2,000 children from infant to four years old in District 116 with about 40 percent kindergarten-ready by age 5, according to the district.