Getting Ready for Kindergarten in Indianola

When it comes to kindergarten students in this Delta town, academic readiness has become a community affair, and the success of that effort was cause for a recent celebration.

“This is what happens when everyone moves in the same direction and aligned in a way that results in success for these children,” said Josh Davis, vice president of Delta Health Alliance, sponsor of the Indianola Promise Community. “Sometimes you just have to do things differently to make a positive impact in preparing students for kindergarten, which is what we are celebrating.”

Indianola Promise Community has partnered with 16 agencies, programs and services in a successful effort to ensure that Indianola’s young students are “kindergarten ready.” In recognition of that effort, a celebration was held recently at the city library where representatives presented concrete results from this alignment.

  • According to an early literacy assessment conducted in the fall by the Sunflower County Consolidated School District, 64 percent of its students were arriving at kindergarten with no need of additional academic interventions – a whopping 39 percent increase over the previous five-year period.
  • In addition, 51 percent of entering kindergarten students in 2017 met or exceeded the assessment level that is used to predict whether a student will be reading at grade level by the end of the third grade – a 25 percent increase.

“This is a huge celebration because in the beginning it took a lot of effort to have these different conversations,” said Daphne Heflin, principal of Indianola’s Lockard Elementary School. “But we all worked together and made the adjustments to improve the lives of our students.”

In many states, early childhood education and K-12 systems work independently, creating a disconnected chain of educational experiences for students. The concern is that a disconnected system leads to children not being ready to learn when they reach kindergarten.

Research studies have shown that children who arrive to kindergarten unprepared academically are more likely to have an increased rate of teen pregnancy and drug use. They are also more likely to drop out of high school and have a criminal record. Getting children ready for kindergarten is one way the Indianola Promise Community is changing that trajectory.

Those attending the celebration attributed the successes to a variety of strategies including quarterly sessions in which community stakeholders set targets and discuss ideas to improve kindergarten readiness scores. The approach includes intensive summer camp preparation programs, home visitation programs which focus on child and family development, and Imagination Library, a free book program for 0-5 year olds.

“We’re starting to see a groundswell to help foster a culture that respects early learning and ensures that every child has the best opportunities to succeed,” said Davis. “To do that, we’ve built a foundation made up of partners willing to work together. The message is that you’re much weaker individually and that strength is a collective effort.”

Recognized during the kindergarten-readiness celebration were:

Sunflower County childcare centers, Children’s Defense Fund, the Delta Council, Delta Health Alliance, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, Indianola Excel By 5 Coalition, Indianola Family Medical Group, Indianola Literacy Coalition, Mississippi Center for Education Innovation, Mississippi Low Income Childcare Initiative, Save the Children, Social Services Collaboration, Sunflower County Consolidated School District, Sunflower County Library System, Sunflower County United for Children and the U.S. Department of Education.