Rising kindergarteners at Hutchison Elementary in Herndon will soon get a leg up in preparing for kindergarten, thanks to a new partnership.
Hutchison Principal Judy Baldwin officially signed a partnership with the program All Ages Read Together (AART) on Friday in front of a small audience of teachers, administrators, and Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust.
AART founder and president, Sandra Shihadeh, explained that the program works with local volunteers such as seniors and retirees and trains them to read with preschool-aged children who have not had the benefit of any preschooling, to help prepare them for kindergarten.
As a Title 1 school, Baldwin said, Hutchison Elementary is full of children who can greatly benefit from a program such as AART.
"Title 1" is a designation given to a school in which at least 50 percent of its students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches due to low or moderate income.
Because of that lower income, many of the students' families can't afford preschool - and the Head Start program in Fairfax County, which provides free preschool to underprivileged families, still has a waiting list of more than 800 students on it.
All of that means, many of these students are starting preschool at a disadvantage, which perpetuates achievement gaps, Baldwin and Shihadeh explained.
Now, thanks to the partnership with AART, many rising Hutchison students will start school with a better chance of succeeding.
"Many of these children don't have a chance to go to preschool, so through programs like AART, it gives them the boost they need," Baldwin said during Friday's presentation.
With the help of the community volunteers it recruits, AART holds sessions each week to read with children, and at the end of the session, the children get to take the reading books home with them to continue practicing and help make reading a part of their everyday lives going forward, Shihadeh explained.
Moving forward, Baldwin and Shihadeh said, Hutchison may hold summer sessions as well, to give some rising kindergarteners even more help getting used to practicing reading as well as social skills and behavior.
AART mostly operates through donations, which are tax deductible as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. However, Shihadeh said, the return on those donations are strong - by preparing these students to be more successful in school, it saves school districts thousands of dollars in remedial education later down the line.
"In 2012 alone, dozens of AART students graduated [from the AART program] into kindergarten prepared to succeed, possibly saving as much as $98,000 in unnecessary education spending," AART's literature explains. "Considering AART's 2012 annual budget of $140,000 [for Loudoun and Fairfax County], that's a 70-percent return on investment."
Currently, AART has programs at Laurel Learning Center in Reston, The Senior Center at Cascades in Sterling, the Herndon Senior Center, Crossroads Baptist Church in Leesburg, Coppermine II in Herndon, Saint James Episcopal Church of Leesburg, and now at Hutchison Elementary.
For more information, visit www.allagesreadtogether.org.
What do you think of the All Ages Read Together program and Hutchison's new partnership with it? Tell us in the comments.