- Wichita Falls ISD
- Community Insider Fall 2019
Hello Parents and Staff,
So, I have been a believer in early childhood readiness programs for years. Anything that gets our kids ready for kindergarten helps the child immeasurably and saves us time and money later on. It is a big win in my book.
Right now, WFISD has one of the best kindergarten readiness programs I’ve ever seen – and you may not even know about it. It’s called Parents as Teachers, or PAT, and is directed by Yolanda Lewis. Her team of five educators works directly with parents of any income level who have a child with some sort of risk factor. They start with a home visit and do whatever they can think of to help them parent that child so he or she will be healthy and prepared when they come to our doors for kindergarten.
Mrs. Lewis and her team are building relationships between home and school that begin when the children are ages 2, 3, or 4. Even prenatally. When they sit down with families, they ask, “What do you need?” And then they help them get it.
For example, they may accompany parents to the child’s doctor’s appointments if a parent finds that difficult to make happen or if they don’t communicate well with the doctor. They may help a family figure out how to get their electric bill paid. They may join them at a Child Protective Services appointment. They do hearing, vision and developmental screenings. They tell a parent what school their child will be enrolled in with us and enroll them if they need help. They can bring our interpreters to work with bilingual families in home visits. They explain the school lingo if the parents are confused by it.
All in all, they serve as personal educators for each of the 100 families and 250 children they serve. For the past six years, Mrs. Lewis has enrolled children in the program every month, and the program has had a waitlist continuously. Once a month they host a group connection activity where they feed families and give out books to start a library in each home.
The program partners with Community Health Clinic, First Step, Helen Farabee Centers, the Clinics of North Texas, and many other local organizations.
Think of how beneficial this is to families -- and to us. Mrs. Lewis and her team are establishing relationships with families all over Wichita County. Parents receive help and begin to trust us long before their child shows up with his backpack for his first day of school. Because we begin to see, nurture and help the children at such a young age, we are alerted to developmental delays that can be addressed sooner rather than later.
Despite its many events, activities and meetings, this awesome program still seems like a well-kept secret. But its benefits spread by word of mouth. Families say they wish they could stay on in the program even after their children age out as they enter kindergarten. The retention rate is 98 percent.
It may seem like this program is social work, but actually Mrs. Lewis and her team are educators. Each one has at least six years of teaching experience and some as many as 20 or 25 years. They are going into the homes, getting parents engaged, and teaching them how to stay engaged. They also take children through a special PAT curriculum and individualize it to tailor it to each child’s needs.
We have lots of success stories with this program. One child had been kicked out of six daycares. No one had explained to the mother what was wrong but just said the child had a behavior problem. The PAT worker called the WFISD special education department, had him tested, discovered he had autism, and entered him in our PPCD (Preschool Program for Children with Disabilities) program when he was 3 years old.
In another family, a grandmother was raising a boy with an impulsive streak that was interfering with his ability to learn. After PAT intervened, he eventually entered kindergarten with no behavior problems at all and became a straight-A student. A teacher with a full classroom would not have had the time to work with this boy, but by helping him early, it amazed his grandmother and saved the District a lot of money by not requiring special education services.
Because WFISD has had this home-visiting program in place for the past six years, we were able to interest the UPSTART program in launching its internet-based school readiness program for 4-year-olds in Texas with us, which has been another win.
As you recall, UPSTART is a home-based, online, kindergarten readiness program for 4-year-olds. It has been a godsend for parents who didn't have transportation for some reason to get their children into a typical pre-K program. WFISD continues to be the only school district in Texas that offers the UPSTART program even though, nationally, 60,000 students have used it with a 90 percent completion rate.
Locally, 250 4-year-olds have graduated from WFISD's UPSTART program.
Many of the first UPSTART participants here were our PAT families.
With the individual touch of the PAT program, added to the influence of Head Start and Early Head Start programs, and with the UPSTART kindergarten readiness program, how could these children NOT be ready for school when they turn 5?
This Parents As Teachers program fits neatly into our Strategic Plan, particularly under No. 4: We will develop systems to identify and meet the physical, emotional and social needs of students.
I believe the Parents As Teachers program is strengthening our District in a significant way. It’s undergirding our families and children at the very earliest stages of life. And I wanted you to know about it, if you didn’t already. It is headquartered now at Booker T. Washington Elementary. Parents As Teachers staff serve all of Wichita County, even in Burkburnett, Iowa Park, and 25 miles outside of Henrietta and Electra.
Teachers, you can refer students to this program. If you see a student of any income level in your classroom with some sort of risk factor, feel free to give Yolanda Lewis a call.