Nearly half of 2012’s incoming kindergarten students did not attend pre-kindergarten programs, according to the Hawai‘i State School Readiness Assessment. Three years later, fewer than half of the students in this class had reached reading proficiency for third-graders, the second of three consecutive years below 50 percent.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
It shouldn’t be this way.
A child’s early years are critical in establishing a strong foundation, and early childhood education is the basis for lifelong learning and success. High-quality, early programs narrow achievement gaps, decrease the need for special education, and increase high school graduation and college attendance rates.
With a grant from the Samuel N. and Mary Castle Foundation, the Hawai‘i P-20 Partnerships for Education – a collaboration of UH, the state Department of Education, and the Executive Office on Early Learning – provided a free, three-week bridge program for incoming kindergartners. This summer enrichment gave four-year-old children with no early learning experiences a smooth transition to formal schooling.
Giving students a jump start
Focusing on student behaviors, school routines, and increasing students’ confidence, the program fostered in students a sense of independence for the first day of school and throughout the year. Teachers engaged parents with advice for supporting learning at home and getting connected to school services.
One parent said, “The program made my son feel comfortable in the classroom and on school grounds. He also has a jump start on what is expected of him in kindergarten.”
“During the first couple of days, students needed help with learning routines such as putting away their backpacks and getting their name tags,” shared a teacher in the program. “Students needed help with rules and routines. By the end of the program, most children were very independent, walking into the classroom without their parent, and completing routines on their own.”
Since 2006, the Samuel N. and Mary Castle Foundation has provided scholarships at many UH campuses to encourage students pursuing degrees in early childhood education.
Its mission is to produce qualified early teachers in our preschools throughout our state. With its funding for the 2018 pilot Summer Start Kindergarten Transition Program, these far-seeing partners highlight the importance of support for teachers, students, parents, and schools in public education.
Building on a legacy
The Samuel N. and Mary Castle Foundation honors two dedicated New York philanthropists who, arriving in Hawai‘i (1837) at the invitation of King Kamehameha III, worked hard to improve life in 19th century Hawai‘i.
One of America’s oldest foundations, the Foundation was founded by an anti-slavery abolitionist Mary Castle in the late 19th century. Mary Castle and her family worked with the University of Chicago and the education theorist John Dewey to develop progressive kindergartens throughout the state. The various kindergartens funded featured funds to train Hawai‘i’s first cohort of kindergarten teachers at the University of Chicago, the University of Michigan, and Columbia University. In 1941, much of the funds dedicated to teacher training were invested in the University of Hawai‘i’s Laboratory School. Designed by John Dewey, Castle Memorial Hall continues to serve the state today.
The continuing focus of the foundation under Executive Director Alfred L. Castle, great-great-grandson of the founders, is still teacher training and ongoing professional development. To that end, teacher scholarships at UH and other universities combined with ongoing professional development for public and private preschool teachers are emphasized in the Foundation’s grant making.
The Foundation is also dedicated to greater equity for Hawai‘i’s families and children through advocacy for government funds and programs to supplement private funds. The Castle Foundation works with other foundations to advocate before the US Congress and USDOE as well as the State of Hawai‘i.
As Mr. Castle noted recently, “We well know that as important as high-quality early education is for our keiki, our job is not nearly done. We will continue our mission and work with our wonderful corporate, foundation, federal and state partners to get the job of educational equity and equal opportunity done.”