How can an elementary school better prepare incoming students for kindergarten? At Henry Ford Academy: Elementary School in Detroit, we believe that readiness starts by building intentional relationships with pre-K centers.
In April, we brought together more than a dozen Head Start educators. They took two hours out of their day to learn more about our elementary school. I’m sure they anticipated the coffee, baked goods, and logo swag. They had broad smiles when our principal and teachers talked about our culture and the student experience. They nodded their heads enthusiastically with the description of our visual arts program and our success with Restorative Practices.
But, it was the professional learning experience that surprised our guests.
We asked them to embrace mindsets of design thinkers. At Henry Ford Academy: Elementary School, students in grades K-5 learn the processes and ways of approaching problems of design thinkers. This means that they have many experiences exploring real-life questions and learning a specific way to understand and develop possible solutions. Empathy-building, collaboration, prototyping and reflection all become habits for our students.
We divided guests into three groups to have them gain understanding about their colleagues’ experiences at their respective Head Start centers. Each person reflected on their current kindergarten readiness efforts and asked great questions. After developing some empathy, the three groups reported on those readiness efforts to the larger group.
Then, we asked them to identify and share some things they would like to do differently. They talked about creating attendance policies and schedules that are more aligned to those at Detroit elementary schools, offering more parent workshops, and creating pre-K visits to kindergarten classrooms. And finally, they brainstormed new activities that they would like to activate in partnership with our school to ensure that all of their pre-K students and parents are ready for kindergarten.
There was so much authentic enthusiasm created through this experience. It wasn’t only our guests who learned something. We learned that these dedicated Head Start educators take the long view. They want to feel like they are a part of our elementary school. They are invested in creating a foundation for success in elementary, middle, high school and beyond.
And they want to continue to have more of these shared immersive learning experiences to create better learning outcomes for students.
(P.S. They also loved the coffee mugs.)