Early childhood experiences critical to learning

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In a perfect world, children would enter school ready to learn.

With well established social-emotional development already in hand (solid attachment relationships at home and self-regulation skills), they would move through the educational system prepared for academic achievement and get along with their peers. They would have a foundational understanding of moral behavior and the capacity to help others.

Supports would be in place throughout their K-12 experience and their needs would be met in the family, school and community. They would have gained through these experiences empathy, competency and resiliency.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world.

Many — perhaps even half — of kindergarten children are not ready for school. Many will lag behind their peers in the most basic social-emotional skills, which stunts their academic mindset causing them to fall further behind.

Some students will drop out of school, end up in jail, or become part of the welfare system. Others will do the best they can with the support system they have to meet the standards and rigors of our educational system, and stay engaged.

Lincoln High School Principal Jim Sporleder wrote a guest column (bit.ly/W1KLCI) on his students who stayed engaged in school and were on track to graduate except for one big issue, the math test. Sporleder advocated a different path to graduation — a differentiated diploma — for capable, hard-working students with social-emotional developmental issues affecting math performance.

When we voice concern about a mandated test we constantly hear responses such as “you’re letting these kids off the hook” or “you’re trying to dilute the need for standards and rigor” or “they just don’t work hard enough.”

Well, we randomly selected 20 students (now seniors) who had been at Lincoln High School for at least three of their four years of high school, and we looked at their academic progress while under Sporleder and his staff’s care.

Here is what we found for these 20 students:

  • All are on track to graduate.
  • 45 percent will not graduate if they do not pass the math exam.
  • The GPA average is 2.8.
  • Average GPA rose from 1.5 to 2.9 over the four years.
  • 55 percent had an increase in their math test scores (30 percent decreased by 4 points).
  • Collective attendance is 85 percent.

This shows students do well when they feel safe and secure and can thus concentrate on learning.

Could they have done even better if supports had been in place sooner?

More than likely, yes!

Teri Barila

Walla Walla

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