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January 4, 2012
U.Va. research professor explains the importance of kindergarten transition

DANVILLE - Dr. Jason Downer, a nationally recognized school readiness expert and University of Virginia research associate professor, explained the importance of providing a smooth transition to kindergarten to a group of over 200 local childcare providers, kindergarten teachers, principals and community leader on Jan. 3.

The event, "Building Bridges to Kindergarten," was sponsored by Smart Beginnings Danville Pittsylvania.

"The transition process is not something that just happens during the first week of school," Downer said. "It reaches back into the previous summer and preschool year when families should begin receiving information about an elementary school.

"It can begin when early care and education providers introduce kindergarten-type activities, children visit and become comfortable with a kindergarten classroom and kindergarten teachers reach out to incoming classes to form a connection with families."

Downer presented participants with research that supports the importance of high quality early learning experiences and connections between children, families, school and community.

"There are many studies now, like the nationwide Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, that show later achievement of students is built on early success in school," he said.

"When you pay attention to kindergarten transition practices, children adjust quicker to school and learn more."

Downer said the community of pre-school teachers, kindergarten teachers and child care providers can enhance a child's kindergarten adjustment by working closely with parents, and each other, to ensure that children are ready for school.

He emphasized the importance of establishing communication among child care providers, pre-school teachers and kindergarten teachers.

"Not only do children need to develop a set of school readiness skills, but elementary schools need to be ‘ready' for children," Downer said.

"This means that early care providers, pre-school teachers and kindergarten teachers are on the same page about the skills children are expected to have once they start school and make efforts to align classroom practices so children experience continuity in their learning environment."

Pittsylvania County Schools Superintendent James McDaniel agreed with Downer's presentation.

"I think the Pittsylvania County School Board supports efforts within the community that would help ensure that our students enter kindergarten prepared to meet the rigorous academic expectations within our school system," he said.

McDaniel said he hopes that the community will become aware of the importance of making sure children are prepared for the rigors of a 21st century education.

"We want to reduce and, hopefully one day, eliminate what I call the "preparation gap," he added. "That includes students who come to school and have not demonstrated they are at an intellectual or social level that prepares them for success at a kindergarten level."

Danville Schools Superintendent Dr. Sue Davis agreed, adding that programs such as the speaker event only help the school system.

"Professional development is always the key to instructional improvement," she said. "When we put early intervention and the academic, social and emotional needs of young children at the forefront, and we increase the knowledge of our teachers, they are more confident in building a good foundation for our students."

Davis continued, saying that laying a good foundation better serves students as they continue their academic careers.

Downer is a research associate professor at the University of Virginia, assistant director of training at the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning, and a clinical assistant professor in the Curry School of Education's Clinical and School Psychology program.

Over the last five years, he has led or contributed to more than 30 published peer-reviewed manuscripts and over 50 national conference presentations that emphasize the identification and understanding of relevant contextual and relational contributors to young children's early achievement and social competence.

Smart Beginnings Danville Pittsylvania is one of 29 school readiness coalitions in Virginia.

"We are encouraged that childcare providers, schools, service agencies like the Danville Pittsylvania Community Services Board, Danville Pittsylvania Health District, and the Danville Regional Medical Center are thinking through how they can collaborate at higher levels to ensure that all young children enter kindergarten physically, emotionally and intellectually ready to succeed," said Ann Vandervliet Stratton, executive director of Smart Beginnings Danville Pittsylvania.

"We are grateful for the financial support we receive from the Danville Regional Foundation and the J.T. Minnie Maude Foundation. Because of their support, we are able to bring experts like Dr. Downer to the community."

For more information about this event, contact Smart Beginnings at (434) 797-8887 or email info@SmartBeginningsDP.org

To view Dr. Downer's slide show, click here.