On Wednesday, August 23, 90 local educators gathered at the Laurel Business Institute in Uniontown for a day of professional development hosted by the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania.
Attendees included 30 kindergarten teachers and administrators from Uniontown Area School District in Fayette County, Jefferson Morgan School District in Greene County and Mt. Pleasant Area School District in Westmoreland County, plus 55 pre-k teachers and staff from 12 local pre-k centers.
“We’re excited to host this day dedicated to meaningful pre-k and kindergarten collaboration,” said United Way education program manager Jesse Sprajcar. “Teachers, administrators and center directors will have the time and space to learn together and network.”
This is one of several recent efforts to combat longstanding barriers between pre-k centers and school districts. Though both play a major role in early education, the two have traditionally not collaborated consistently or shared strategies.
“Our top priority this year has been to enhance partnerships between local school districts and early care providers,” said Sprajcar.
Earlier this year, United Way worked with the Frazier School District in Fayette County to plan similar professional development events, which distributed $20,000 in classroom resources.
Teachers also received training on the language arts curriculum Handwriting Without Tears. With training shared between pre-k and kindergarten teachers, students will receive more consistent reading and writing instruction through grade levels.
“Most of our region’s pre-k centers are trying to prepare their 4- and 5-year-olds for several different school districts, each with different expectations for incoming kindergarten students,” said Sprajcar. “Increased communication and familiar resources will ease the transition process for those young learners.”
United Way provided teachers with the materials and supplies needed to teach lessons in their own classrooms. These resources are expected to impact an estimated 800 students in 42 pre-k and kindergarten classrooms.
Over the last year, United Way has worked more deeply with community partners in Fayette County and surrounding communities. Between 2016 and 2017, the organization hosted its annual pre-k to kindergarten “transition” conference, open to educators from the six Fayette County School Districts and local early learning centers; worked with the Fayette County Association for the Blind to conduct 1,100 free vision screenings on 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds; and collaborated with the Laurel Highlands School District, Uniontown Area School District, Uniontown Hospital and the public libraries of Masontown and Brownsville to distribute thousands of books to children through projects like BookStop, Books for Babies and Raising Readers.