On a recent morning, the volume was high and energy abundant as prekindergarten students whirled from station to station in teacher Vaneece Porter’s class at Fleming Early Learning Center in northeast Detroit.
Five-year-old Lauren Kidd sat at a small table sorting small, colorful pieces of plastic fruit and then counted the number of strawberries, bananas, grapes and oranges in each group. Myair Moore, also 5, flitted around the room in a tutu from the classroom’s career station, pretending to be a ballerina, and occasionally picked up small musical instruments, clanging them together. Meanwhile, in the “library center,” another Prekindergarten student flipped through picture books. And across the room, two students wearing headphones tapped away on computers, trying to identify words that began with the letter “C.”
Fleming Early Learning Neighborhood Center, which houses three Pre-K classrooms and the district’s Early Childhood offices, is one of DPS’ six Early Learning Neighborhood Centers spread across the city. Using the research-based HighScope curriculum, the students’ day is built around a child-directed, high-quality learning approach with lots of hands-on experiences. During a portion of their day, students are free to choose where they want to learn and which activities they want to explore.
The learning centers may appear to be all “play,” but at each station children are engaged in learning, Porter said. “They have a lot of experiences they bring into the classroom, so it’s the teacher’s job to listen to the students and what they already know and to guide them in their learning,” she said, explaining that Lauren’s fruit-sorting task was helping her to work on counting and identifying colors, while Myair was developing her social skills.
Detroit Public Schools’ early childhood curriculum provides an array of engaging activities to assist Prekindergartners in learning about reading, writing, science, math and, social studies. They also explore music, painting, how things work, how things are put together, how things live, and observing changes in many areas. The focus is on supporting the students socially, emotionally, physically, mentally and academically. Students also have access to current technology and are able to utilize computers throughout the day.
A typical day in Karla Bennett’s classroom includes small group instruction guided by the teachers, two child-directed periods where students are free to choose from a variety of learning centers, and large group instruction. The students know their routine includes creating a plan for their learning, engaging in the plan and then reviewing their plan, which helps them to build their vocabulary and create a foundation for how they will learn throughout their educational career. “We also teach them social skills,” Bennett said. “We’re teaching them how to grow up and be great citizens in the world. We also have a good rapport and make relationships with our families and we let them know how important it is that the kids get a great foundation to move on and be prepared for kindergarten.”
Including the classes at Fleming, Detroit Public Schools Foundation for Early Learners offers Universal PreK in 189 preschool classrooms in 64 DPS buildings and charter school locations through Great Start Readiness and Title I programs. Partnering with Head Start, DPS also offers 14 more sites throughout the district in order to address the needs of the communities in which they serve. Fleming students also benefit from a partnership with PNC, Music Hall, Cranbrook Institute of Science, and Detroit Parent Network through the PNC Grow Up Great Initiative.
The program provides a foundation in arts and science that includes an array of stimulating classroom materials and resources, as well as sponsored trips to some of the area’s best learning arts and cultural attractions, such as Orchestra Hall and the Michigan Science Center. Some of the services that parents receive include Gleaners Community Food Bank “Back Packs,” Christmas Boxes, free hats and gloves and more, said Wilma Taylor-Costen, Assistant Superintendent. To ensure students are prepared for kindergarten, they are also evaluated using online assessment called the COR, which provides a detailed developmental profile covering nine key areas of child development and learning.
Learning can be tailored for each child based on the ongoing assessment results. Fleming also includes a new Early Intervening Services Program in which early childhood educators work to identify kindergarten students who need extra support in their learning to keep them on track.
The focus with all the programs is to create the foundation for a bright educational future, said Anita Totty, Director of Early Childhood. “The earlier we start, the better it is for the children,” Totty said. “If we can catch them early, and work with them early, then we believe when they get to third and fourth grade, they will be on task and on target.”