April Gagalski and students in her pre-kindergarten class at Rock Hall Elementary School use creative kits to perform “The Itsy Bitsy Spider.” The all-day universal pre-k program here has helped push Kent County Public Schools to being a state leader on Kindergarten Readiness Assessments this year.
ROCK HALL — Early childhood education programs are paying off here as Kent County Public Schools is coming in at the head of the class in Maryland for kindergarten readiness.
Every fall, young students throughout the state are given the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment by teachers. This year’s assessment was given throughout the fall in all elementary schools.
Data released late last month from the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) shows Kent County Public Schools has the third-highest percentage of kindergarten students demonstrating readiness.
When it comes to kindergarten readiness, Dr. Karen Couch, superintendent of Kent County Public Schools, points to the successful efforts of both pre-kindergarten and kindergarten teachers.
“The outstanding dedication of our pre-K and kindergarten teachers and their intentional focus on improving student achievement is evident in our Kindergarten Readiness Assessment scores,” Dr. Couch said.
MSDE reports that 53% of Kent County Public Schools’ kindergartners demonstrate readiness. Another 31% of early learners here are approaching readiness.
Worcester County came in tops in the state with 62% of kindergartners demonstrating readiness, with Carroll and Harford counties tied at second with 54%, just 1% higher than Kent.
Kent County Public Schools also is well above the state average of 40% for kindergarten readiness.
Kent County Public Schools was an early proponent of universal all-day pre-K. In the early years of the program here, Kent County Public Schools was the only system in the state offering it to all families.
“What a child learns during their first five years will impact them for a lifetime. This is why early childhood education matters. Learning how to learn is the first step to educating a child,” said Betsy Lloyd, a kindergarten teacher at Rock Hall Elementary School. “Kent County is lucky to have a team of committed early childhood teachers that work together to teach our students how to learn and to love learning.”
April Gagalski, a pre-K teacher at Rock Hall Elementary School, said part of the focus has been on creating classrooms that help with emphasizing social skills instruction and acknowledging appropriate student behavior.
“The pre-kindergarten teachers have worked extremely hard to identify skills that children need to be successful in kindergarten. We are continually learning new strategies and refining current strategies to teach students these skills,” Gagalski said. “We are proud of our students’ achievements.”
The kindergarten readiness assessment was not giving during the previous school year as many school systems were still offering kindergarten in a virtual setting due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The MSDE report shows that all school systems in Maryland saw decreases in kindergarten readiness rates from the 2019-20 school year, though Kent County Public Schools dipped by just 1%.
“Kent County Public School's commitment to providing quality in-person learning to our students last year instead of remaining virtual, yielded greater academic dividends,” Couch said.
Even when the school system was maintaining a hybrid schedule with in-person and virtual classes, early learners still received hands-on lessons at home. Specialized lesson kits were delivered to every pre-K student in Kent County Public Schools.
“We were able to provide very high-quality instruction,” said Gina Jachimowicz, director of teaching and learning for Kent County Public Schools. “The teachers did everything in their power to keep the students fully engaged — and the children really enjoyed it.”
Kent County Public Schools has 122 students enrolled in kindergarten this year. That 53% demonstrating readiness totals about 65 students in the three elementary schools. Add in the 31% approaching readiness and the total number of students grows to 103.
“The true champions are the children. They’re so resilient,” Jachimowicz said.
In giving early learners the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment, teachers are measuring mastery of educational standards set in language and literacy and math, as well social foundations, physical well-being and motor skills development.
Students are evaluated differently for kindergarten readiness. The process leans more observational than test based. Teachers also track student progress and provide individualized enrichment for children.
“I’m so proud of our teachers,” Jachimowicz said. “The Kindergarten Readiness Assessment requires a lot of training, thought and time. Our teachers are well trained in that.”