Shusterman, Students Teach Local Pre-K Summer Program

Wesleyan students taught a five-week pilot Kindergarten Kickstart at Macdonough Elementary in Middletown this summer.

Inspired by her students’ passion for education reform, Assistant Professor of Psychology Anna Shusterman and several of her students launched an innovative five-week pilot program this summer to prepare children entering kindergarten at Macdonough School in Middletown.

Fifteen children participated in this research-based program, with a curriculum designed by Shusterman, her students and a Macdonough teacher. According to Shusterman, children in low-income neighborhoods start kindergarten with academic skills up to two years behind their peers. Research shows that quality early childhood education makes a huge difference in helping to shrink this achievement gap. In fact, economists estimate a $7 return for every $1 invested in early childhood education, resulting from lower spending on school remediation, incarceration, unemployment and other programs that become necessary when children do not start out on the right foot. About 80 percent of Macdonough students are on free and reduced lunch programs.

The summer program was taught by Taylor Deloach ’13, Sydney Lewis ’14, Julia Vermeulen ’14 and Andy Ribner ’14 in collaboration with Shusterman and an early-education certified teacher, Felicia Johnson. Julie Kastenbaum ’06, who is working toward a Ph.D. in school psychology, volunteered her time to administer a standardized assessment at the beginning and end of the program.

Rani Arbo, a local folk singer, visited the Kickstart program.

The daily and weekly lessons were designed to help children walk in as ready as they can be for the first day of kindergarten. According to Shusterman, activities were designed to boost a few high-impact target areas based on current research in child development and school readiness. These included dramatic play; outdoor play; science and math games; stories and letters; focus games and goal-setting conversations. The group also took weekly field trips to the local children’s museum and the library, and participated in daily activities led by Wesleyan students, including dance, yoga, sign language and music. Children were also provided with free breakfast and lunch.

A graduation ceremony will be held Aug. 2 at Macdonough School.

The project was made possible by an intensive collaboration between Shusterman, Macdonough Principal Jon Romeo, and Izzi Greenberg ’05, executive director of the community organization NEAT. Shusterman and her students independently raised funds to run the program.

Ongoing updates are available at a blog written by Lewis. Ribner ’14 shares photos of the program on his web site.