Denice Oliver is still going over the notes compiled by various small groups at Thursday's second Crookston Early Childhood Summit when they were asked to detail the things they've implemented since the inaugural summit several months ago.
But what the Washington School Principal and Early Childhood Family Education director knows without reading through them in detail is that early childhood education proponents in the community are already doing great things, but know they can do more to make sure that educators and parents work in partnership to make sure that children are ready when they walk into the classroom on their first day of kindergarten.
"We talked about what we can do to connect more with parents, and what we realized is that we have a tremendous opportunity to do so when we screen every child at age 3," Oliver told the Times. "Most show up for that, so one thing we're going to make sure we do is not just focus 100 percent on screening the child, but really reach out to the parents and establish a relationship."
The next early childhood screening will take place in January 2013.
Around three years before that, shortly after babies are born, Oliver said Polk County Public Health makes home visits to families with newborns. "That's something else that's already in place, so what we need to figure out is how we can utilize that service better," she said. "How can we use that very first visit to take the very first steps in establishing a relationship with families?"
Then, when children turn 4 and 5 years old, there's Kindergarten Roundup. "That's a very important and successful time for reaching out and connecting," Oliver said. "But now we're talking about, once we have roundup, is offering kindergarten readiness classes not just for the children but for the parents, too."
There would be three or maybe four sessions, Oliver said. "What we'd really love to do is pick up the parents and children on buses to come to the readiness classes," she said. "Then we'd hone in on specific topics, like things the parents can do with their children in areas like math and literacy, self-help and social readiness."
Connie Camrud, director of the University of Minnesota, Crookston's Early Childhood Education program and the Children's Center on campus, hosted Thursday's summit in the Sargeant Student Center Bede Ballroom.
Oliver was pleased with the "diversity of the audience" that attended, including School District Superintendent Chris Bates and Northwestern Mental Health Center Executive Director Shana Reitmeier. "I talked to Shana at the end and we're thinking about ways we could collaborate," Oliver said.
After the inaugural summit, there was talk of making the second summit more of a "Parent Summit" that would specifically invite parents. But Oliver said the "enormity" of the task of inviting all parents of newborns to 5-year-old children to a summit led organizers to switch gears a bit. "We want to be able to strategically narrow our focus so we reach the most people in the most effective way possible," she said, citing "tool kits" for parents that will be given to parents at the January early childhood screening.
Page 2 of 2 - A $50,000 Otto Bremer Foundation grant, along with funding from the Crookston Early Childhood Initiative and the Crookston Area Community Fund, is making the summits and tool kits possible. Oliver said a third summit is already being planned, for April 2013.