Ready Freddy and Why "Kindergarten Matters"

by Aisha White

One Sunday morning, my granddaughter Amira purposefully took a blank sheet of white paper from me and dug into our large bowl of crayons. Her mom, Monica, asks, “What are you gonna make this time, Mir Mir?” Amira decides to make a special note just for mommy. She writes, “I love mommy” in huge letters and draws a big heart colored in with red crayon. Then her mother exclaims, “Your printing is getting so good, Mir Mir! I can’t believe how well you can write already.”

That conversation got me thinking more about my role as director of the Office of Child Development’s (OCD) Ready Freddy project and how amazing a child’s kindergarten year can be when they actually attend school regularly and experience good teaching. According to her teacher “Ms. M,” Amira is a star kindergarten student at Pittsburgh Public’s Fulton PreK-5 French magnet school.

Ready Freddy: Pathways to Kindergarten Success is an early education program based on the belief that a quality transition to kindergarten will bring lifelong educational benefits to a child. Ready Freddy partners with local schools and districts to help children, families, communities, and schools implement—and celebrate—successful, positive transition into, and through, kindergarten. The project is designed to assist schools with kindergarten outreach, enrollment, transition, parent engagement, and attendance. The OCD, and our project, are part of and supported by the School of Education, as well as through the generous support of the Grable, Birmingham, Buhl, and Henry L. Hillman Foundations and The Heinz Endowments.

Over and over again in my travels to public schools across the city, I hear principals, teachers, staff, and community partners talk about how different kindergarten is now and how much higher the stakes are than when we were children. The need to communicate the importance of a quality kindergarten transition to parents, communities, schools, and districts grows greater every day. However, full-day kindergarten is not uniform in the United States. In some states, like Pennsylvania, school attendance is not mandatory until age 8.

While many children struggle because they didn’t attend a preK program prior to kindergarten, the new academic environment can be a challenge for all young children—and yet the benefits of attendance can be enormous. According to the research, children in full-day kindergarten classes show greater reading and mathematics gains and experience long-term educational gains; these results hold especially true for low-income and minority students. Full-day kindergarten also offers social, emotional, and intellectual benefits. Enter our new motto: Kindergarten Matters!

With support from Ready Freddy, schools are able to:

  • Reach out to parents in the community and encourage them to enroll their children early for kindergarten
  • Organize kindergarten teams that coordinate programs and events for parents and incoming kindergartners
  • Help parents learn concrete ways to support their child’s education outside of the classroom
  • Inform parents of the important role attendance plays in school success