Sitka Busmobile/Focus Groups
The wheels on the bus go…wherever there are five-year olds ready for kindergarten! Baranof Elementary School in Sitka had a plan for enrolling pre-school children in kindergarten. The challenge was identifying and enrolling children who are not in formal pre-school.
Last April, Principal Jill Lecrone took to the streets to bring registration to neighborhoods and family-friendly locations. The goal was to encourage enrollment, answer questions about kindergarten, and get a timely and accurate enrollment figure. We publicized widely and promoted a free book giveaway to increase participation. The principal estimated that we added three unanticipated registrations to the 2019-2020 school year and answered many questions of parents already intending to enroll. We were able to publicize and encourage on-time registration.
The principal experienced positive interactions with students looking forward to kindergarten next year. We made solid community contacts and learned about additional ways to communicate with parents (BIHA quarterly newsletter, flyer posting locations.) Several children had the chance to check out a school bus. A fun way to interact with families!
-Kari Sagel, Sitka STEPS Coordinator
The Sitka School District recently conducted several focus groups surrounding their Wooch.een preschool initiative. Wooch.een Yei Jigaxtoonei, or the We are Working Together Preschool Program, is a joint project between the Sitka School District, Sitka Tribe, and Tlingit & Haida Head Start. This program is a great model of community collaboration to create a culturally-responsive kindergarten readiness curriculum for low-income students.
8 families were chosen to provide feedback regarding Wooch.een, and many of their comments revolved around the focus on Tlingit language and culture. By having outdoor experiential learning, students are able to have a sensory component to their education that was appreciated by many parents. Parents also enjoy the integration of Tlingit language, sign language, and Spanish into the curriculum, and find value in a multi-lingual classroom.
However, some of the most important comments were related to the high level of family engagement that was afforded by the Wooch.een model. Parents enjoyed being able to sit with their students and share food, and agreed that having a face-to-face meeting with Head Start created an expectation of family engagement for the rest of the year. Teachers and staff went out of their way to interact with Wooch.een families, and one parent was quoted as saying, “I know everyone at the school.”
Overall, Sitka’s collaborative preschool initiative has thrived as a result of its painstaking efforts to prioritize family engagement and cultural integration, and is a great example of the kind of work we want to achieve through the STEPS grant!