Like most parents, Brittany Brown wants to give her daughter as many opportunities as possible to be successful, which is why she felt it imperative to enroll her 4-year-old daughter, Za’naae, in the Dallas ISD’s early education program at Arthur Kramer Elementary School, where she learns both English and Spanish.
“She comes home and teaches me things she’s learned in class,” said Brown, who is studying to become a medical assistant. “It’s amazing watching your child grow and develop while being exposed to a different culture and different types of people.”
Brown most values her daughter’s exposure to the bilingual teaching that takes place in Nery Franco’s classroom at Kramer.
A veteran early education teacher with a master’s degree, Franco is encouraged about the focus being given to Dallas ISD’s prekindergarten students and classrooms. She applauds the increased training and professional development, the support of teacher assistants and classroom specialists who help guide and mentor the district’s early childhood educators.
Franco said she believes the district’s investment in providing greater support to educators will pay dividends in retaining early childhood teachers. She says the specialists are a great help to teachers who face the dual challenges of helping young children adapt to the classroom setting, and creating an environment that is conducive to learning.
“Having a specialist, I can see someone in action and learn from them,” said Franco. “It feels good to have an instructional model, to have someone you can contact to ensure you are incorporating best practices with your kiddos. It’s a learning process and they are here to help us, and that’s awesome.”
Alan Cohen, executive director of Dallas ISD’s Early Childhood Education program, is at the forefront of the district’s effort to make kindergarten readiness a community priority. Cohen said the program’s emphasis is on raising instructional quality in prekindergarten classrooms by providing both teachers and teacher assistants the right specialization and training to effectively teach 4-year-olds.
“One of the more immediate steps in improving instructional quality for early education teachers has been stepping up the support available to them with instructional specialists,” said Cohen. “The specialists are currently active in half of the district’s early education classrooms and will be in 75 percent of classrooms by the end of this school year.”
At the beginning of this school year, the district estimated 9,500 students would enroll in prekindergarten. To date, there are about 9,700 students enrolled and 1,000 seats are still available for eligible students. Eligible students must meet at least one of the requirements: be non-English-language speakers, qualify for free or reduced price lunch, be homeless, have been in foster care, or have a parent in the military.
Cohen credits the growth of the program to successes like the Lakewood community’s embrace of the new Montessori program at Mata Elementary. That and other efforts have communicated the importance of helping children get a head start on learning through early education opportunities.
Ensuring students get that head start is all important, said Kramer parent Brittany Brown. “If you have the opportunity to get your child involved in an early education classroom, I would encourage any parent to get their child involved,” she said. “The teachers are really great. They really take time to help students learn.”