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Illinois district begins college, career thinking in kindergarten

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By Tara Garcia Mathewson – Education Dive

Dive Brief:

  • Kankakee School District Superintendent Genevra Walters spearheaded a shift to a focus on college and career prep starting in kindergarten for her Illinois students, and math scores have already jumped as a result.
  • District Administration reports regular education classes are now called College and Career Academy Classrooms, and students do four career-oriented projects per grade, starting with human services in kindergarten and working through agriculture, health sciences, business, communication and information systems, and architecture and engineering by fifth grade.
  • The initiative quickly got buy-in from teachers and parents, and it features a 1:1 device program, with plans to concentrate the College and Career Academy classes in one building rather than mixing them with magnet and gifted, which limited collaboration across classes.

Dive Insight:

There is always a lot of discussion in school reform conversations about how early is too early to start focusing on certain goals. Often, new programs are scaffolded to be appropriate for even the youngest learners. In the high-stakes testing era ushered in by No Child Left Behind, however, there have been complaints that kindergartners are being asked to sit at desks and do worksheets that will ultimately prepare them for third-grade standardized tests, even though this may not be developmentally appropriate.

Many districts have begun to shift back in the other direction, recognizing the benefits of play. Sure, there are important gains in social-emotional learning among students, but teachers are also incorporating play stations that give students time to practice math and literacy skills in hands-on ways.

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