Achieve Escambia saves 3-year-old program
By Holly Magee
Being an educator is tremendously fulfilling and challenging at the same time. I have the pleasure of serving our community as principal of C. A. Weis Elementary Community Partnership School.
If you don’t know about us, we’re located in the heart of Pensacola … not too far from the intersection of Pace Boulevard and Fairfield Drive. Our 32505 Zip code includes one of Florida’s most extreme pockets of poverty. Recent reports have found that our neighborhood community ranks number one in all the wrong categories: pediatric emergency room visits, volume of calls to 911, and reports of abuse.
Out location describes where we are; it does not define who we are.
We are a school filled with talented and compassionate teaching professionals. We are serving kind, silly and intelligent children who reach for the stars when they dream of “someday.”
We are facing challenges at Weis, as are schools across our community. An overwhelming number of children are simply not ready to begin learning when the enter kindergarten for the first time. In many ways, a child’s education is like a race, and when children start the race well behind their peers it’s difficult for them to catch up.
School leaders and teachers see it all too often. Struggles in kindergarten linger, then multiply, impacting a child’s confidence and their interest in achieving success both in and outside the classroom.
Like many in our community, we are working hard to find solutions to the kindergarten readiness problem. Most Florida children first enter formal education in voluntary prekindergarten (VPK), which students can begin after they’ve turned 4 years old. The state of Florida was one of the first in the nation to offer VPK to all 4-year-olds, and it was certainly a step in the right direction.
At Weis, we are working to start even earlier. Our community realized this several years ago, when we launched a preschool class just for 3-year-olds.
We are already seeing remarkable results. Students in the 3-year-old class are significantly more prepared for VPK when they turn 4. We’ve witnessed increases of 30 percent in oral language, 54 percent in phonological awareness, 36 percent in math and 28 percent in print knowledge.
Despite this success, the Weis 3-year-old class was on the verge of closure earlier this year due to lack of funding.
That was when Achieve Escambia stepped up.
If you’re not aware of Achieve Escambia, it’s a relatively young collective impact effort that aims to improve outcomes, cradle to career. Simply put, they’re trying to help students across our entire community become better prepared to begin kindergarten, better able to succeed throughout school and be confident and prepared to enter the workface after school. The group does this not by providing a single service, but working with providers to align efforts. The alignment is important so all of the work being done among non-profits, educators, faith-based groups and families complements each other to the betterment of the student.
The Achieve Escambia leadership team learned the story of our 3-year-old class. They saw the results. And this diverse team of leaders came forward, saying WE ARE WITH YOU. Our community couldn’t afford to lose such an important program. The organizations led by the Achieve Escambia leadership team members have pledged to keep this class funded for the next three years.
I nearly cried when I got the news. One small class for 3-year-old may seem like a small step to you, but for educators like me, it’s a big deal. I can’t even measure the amount of hope and opportunity this class will be able to provide to these students and their families for years to come.
We are improving classroom results and we know this is a challenging endeavor. Your school system can’t do it alone. We need our partners in our community and we need your help, whether it’s volunteering at a local school, volunteering at an after-school program or providing financial support to those amazing groups who are working with our community’s children.
At C.A. Weis Elementary Community Partnership School we depend on the support of our partners and we are always looking for others who share our vision to join us. That is why we are thrilled to welcome Achieve Escambia’s support of our 3-year-old students and we are looking forward to the years to come.
Holly Magee is the principal at C.A. Weis Elementary Community Partnership School in Escambia County. Weis is the first school in the Pensacola area to be named an accredited Community School by the Center for Community Schools at the University of Central Florida. The designation recognizes and provides funding to support Weis’s work to provide after-school enrichment, a wellness cottage, reading intervention and added student nutritional efforts.