WILLO WRIGHT

WILLO WRIGHT

BRUNSWICK

Some students in Brunswick, before they even enter the school system, are not equipped with the social or educational foundation they need for a successful transition.

Willo Wright, a self-described activist and co-founder of a nonprofit organization who has worked with youth for decades, said the number of children who are in need of remedial help should be a call to action for the community.

Wright is raising nearly $20,000 to support Cub Camp, a pre-kindergarten program that runs for five weeks in July and August and serves children who score lower on assessment tests than their peers. This year, there is no money available to fund the program for a second year, confirmed Coffin Elementary School Principal Steve Ciembroniewicz and Brunwsick Schools Superintendent Paul Perzanoksi.

Last year, 40 out of 196 students assessed presented red flags with number and letter recognition, limited vocabulary or difficulty with socialization, Wright said.

Four teachers worked for five weeks to ready the students for kindergarten, with positive results. Students were provided transportation to and from the class and the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program provided lunch. Katherine Quinn, an AmeriCorps volunteer, compiled data of student improvement, showing all students demonstrated marked improvement. Children entering kindergarten have access to free educational screening at Curtis Memorial Library each year to assess their strengths and needs for remedial intervention before they enter the school. Last year, there was $21,000 left in the district’s coffers from Federal Title 1 money to fund the program. Wright estimates the program costs about $500 per child for the entire five-week camp. Classes are taught four days a week.

The first screening will be in May and the second will be held in the summer at Curtis Memorial Library. Ciembroniewicz said the screening is part of a special education obligation.

Ciembroniewicz said the program is not just beneficial for academic performance, but also for school readiness — teaching simple but known activities that are part of a regular school day, such as learning how to walk in a line, how to focus attention to a teacher, how to sit during reading time with other students. The ability to identify targeted needs for students gives them a substantial leg up. Last year, the first year of cub camp, came together because of a confluence of need and funding, he said.

The district does not have a pre-kindergarten program open to all students, but in 2012, a program was developed. The district has not had the necessary space or the funding, an estimates $300,000 to operate it, Perzanoski said. Based on projections, the program would serve about 120 incoming students each year. Perzanoski said Cub Camp, although not run by the schools, will act as a bridge until the school-run pre-K program is implemented, when the new Coffin Elementary School may be built.

Ciembroniewicz said the district has been talking about pre-kindergarten programs forever, and that the new school design includes four classrooms for pre-K instruction. He said it would likely be eight half-day sessions. But that could be four or five years away, leaving hundreds of children without a pre-K program.

Wright said the district has phenomenal leadership and educators, and they do an amazing job with the resources they have, but the community must come together to supplement this opportunity.

“They are my kids, they are their kids, they are your kids,” Wright said, expanding the reach of her arms with a gesture as if to envelop the community in her determination. “Kids are our number one resource, and they must be well educated and healthy is they are to do well. Public education is the backbone of America.”

Wright said the district has done well with the resourced it has, but said its difficult to be innovative when continually managing financial losses. The school could be looking at a $1 million budget shortfall with cuts at the state level, said Perzanoski.

Perzanoksi said feedback on the program was very positive, with teachers noting the academic improvement of students who participated in the program. The superintendent said apart from anecdotal evidence of the impact of pre-K programs, data shows the extra instruction is linked to higher school attendance, less special education needs, lower referrals to the juvenile justice system, and increased acclimatization to academics.

He said students from lower socio-economic demographics typically have less opportunity to be involved in academic activities and this program seeks to correct that and provide a more even start for all children attending their first year of school.

Wright said she wants to focus on proactive measures, and said the community as a whole must pay attention to what is going on in local schools. Wright has worked with all ages in varying capacities as a mentor and advocator. She said everybody is aware early intervention and proactive measures are the most effective ways to ensure students graduate.

“We can’t just keep talking about it,” she said.

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