P-3 Alignment

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IMPACT OF FOCAL AREA

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Setting a positive trajectory for student achievement by grade three begins before birth. Effective approaches to P–3 alignment focus on building a continuum of learning experiences that bridge early learning and the early grades. This has become a key strategy in education innovation to support children in expanding on positive gains made, leading to learning that progressively builds from one year to the next. Detailed reviews of policies, programs, and practices regarding P–3 alignment all point to the benefits of continuous supports throughout the early years to sustain learning outcomes for young children.

Pennsylvania’s goal in focusing on prenatal to third grade alignment is to support competence in early learning skills to give children more opportunities to be successful in grades four and beyond, to decrease dropout rates, and to build skills for college and career readiness. When early learning settings are intentionally aligned to one another, all children benefit. Comprehensive approaches for prenatal through grade three children hold incredible potential to dramatically change the path of achievement and to set young children on solid pathways to education and lifelong success.

The Pennsylvania P–3 working model is built upon four guiding principles, reinforcing the concept-iterative process of change. P–3 work is inclusive, complex, continuous, and contextual. P–3 systems should be inclusive of the full prenatal through grade three continuum, inclusive of ALL children and families, and inclusive of all types of programs, schools, and agencies. P–3 work is complex because components often overlap, and there is movement between and among components. Additionally, the specific focus of efforts shifts and changes over time and in response to both internal and external forces. Systems work is also continuous. Educators should constantly be checking themselves and their work, making sure they are responsive to the needs of those they serve. Knowledge of context is foundational to both the “what” and the “how” as communities develop, implement, and evaluate these P–3 efforts. Being aware of context requires localities to acknowledge, understand, and act within local, regional, state, and national contexts. It encompasses thinking about how the local is both responsive to and supportive of the global.


"P–3 systems should be inclusive of the full prenatal through grade three continuum, inclusive of ALL children and families, and inclusive of all types of programs, schools, and agencies."


Pennsylvania's P3 Systems Building Logic Model

(Click circles and black arrows to learn more)

P-3 Model
Engaged Families Effective Learning Environments Health and Wellness Leadership Cross-Sector Evidence Driven Responsive Relationships

Engaged Families

Families play a key role in the P-3 collaboration. They not only know their children best, they also are the constant along the P-3 continuum. Families should be engaged intentionally and regularly in strengths-based ways. A starting point with families should be an assumption they have the best intentions for their child. Family engagement along the P-3 continuum encompasses acknowledging each families strengths and needs, as well as helping families navigate the transitions occurring throughout the continuum. Families should also be heard, as equal members, in all P-3 efforts.

Effective Learning Environments

This area addresses the alignment of standards, curriculum, assessments, and instructional practices coupled with the acknowledgement of child development and learning theory specific to working with young children. The goal is ensuring instruction is responsive to the whole child and the developmental shifts occurring across the continuum.

The final components of the P-3 model we have termed accelerants. Accelerants deal with implementation of the areas of impact. Or put simply, accelerants are the “the how.” We use the term accelerants because we believe these components are the fuel used to drive the areas of impact forward and necessary for any initiative, innovation, or strategy to be successful and sustainable. The accelerants are: leadership; cross-sector work; responsive relationships; and evidence-driven improvement cycles.

Health and Wellness

Early experiences affect the development of brain architecture, which provides the foundation for all future learning, behavior, and health. Just as a weak foundation compromises the quality and strength of a house, adverse experiences early in life can impair brain architecture, with negative effects lasting into adulthood. Adverse experiences may include exposure to toxic substances prenatally and early in life, exposure to toxic stress, and/or neglect, and familial stressors. Focusing on physical and mental health and well-being acknowledges and emphasizes the impact of environmental factors on learning. It required addressing not only on the physical and mental health of the child, but also on those of the adults (family members, siblings, and teachers) who interact with the child.

Leadership

Beginning this work takes a leader; this may be a person or an agency. The leader may help gather people around the table, establish initial steps, and identify potential initiative. Establishing a team or initiative leader may be the easy part of this accelerant. The harder part is understanding true sustainability takes shared leadership and then creating shared leadership structures. A shared leadership structure not only maximizes efforts, but also ensures the work continues through the challenges faced during staffing changes.

Cross-Sector

This work truly does take a village to be successful and sustainable. It is not just about how many people are at the table but is also about being intentional about who has a seat at the table.  Particular attention is given to ensuring the voices of those being served are heard. This accelerant is also about operationalizing the coordination occurring between people who have relationships. Too often we see great work stop when a key player retires, switches jobs or relocates. Teams need to think about committing to writing and sharing the processes of their P-3 work.

Evidence Driven

Because this work is ongoing, communities need to check efforts, measure progress, make course correction, or even decide to stop something. Evidence provides teams with tangible data to look at, discuss, and serve as the basis for decisions.

Responsive Relationships

At the core of all P-3 work is relationships. The focus of this accelerant is on the type of relationships fostered. Deep and intentional thought needs to go into identifying and acknowledging who has the power, who benefits, and who loses inside of the many system(s) in which communities are working. Responsive relationships committed to equity, inclusion, and diversity; realities that must be addressed in communities as they engage in this work.

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LOCAL STRATEGIES

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Driven by the importance of P–3 alignment and informed by the working model, many CIZs were able to effectively employ strategies to create connections and continuity across the P–3 continuum to have significant impacts on local communities. Several grantees used technology, like Pennsylvania’s Early Learning GPS, as a starting point for collaboration with community, early learning, and school district partners. Other grantees focused on creating a clear vision to guide program staff, parents, community partners, and supporters together. In general, four specific process-oriented strategies emerged as the most frequently used in the CIZs: use of professional development opportunities; focus on a specific population or area of impact; prenatal emphasis; and transition support.

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Use of Professional Development Opportunities

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Focus on a Specific Population of Area of Impact

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Prenatal Emphasis

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Transition Support

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USE OF PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT

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A common strategy adopted by many CIZs was the use of professional development. CIZs employed unique and varied training opportunities to strengthen connections across the P–3 continuum. The CIZ teams were all invited to attend the PA Early Childhood Summit, where they could access various training topics of interest and share their knowledge with teammates. Breakout sessions were offered through the P–3 Governor’s Institutes, with national trainers providing professional development that set out current strategies for educators to raise student achievement. As relationships were built through their missions, shared professional development among early childhood providers and districts became more prevalent.

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CIZ Stories from the Field

First Up (formerly the Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children (DVAEYC), located in Philadelphia County, used a coaching model to focus on adult behavior change with the goal of leading to improved child outcomes. In partnership with Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute, a nationally recognized museum focused on science and technology, DVAEYC designed and developed robust professional development sessions on integrated and experiential learning.

In Philadelphia County, professional development opportunities created space for early learning and elementary school teachers to learn alongside of one another, to learn specific teaching strategies, and to explore new materials. First Up used grant funds to create kits connected to workshop topics with all the materials and instructions needed to implement the strategies demonstrated in the workshops for teachers to take and use in their classrooms. In the next step, teachers received three technical assistance and coaching visits in their own settings to get support and feedback. First Up also met with school district administrators to be sure workshop content aligned with district standards and curricular goals. The final step First Up employed was instituting Communities of Practice (CoP). First Up introduced internet-based platforms to teachers as a strategy to stay connected and provide an informal space for teachers to network. The goal is for the teachers to continue the CoP on their own. While it took the First Up staff some time to gain the trust of teachers, staff members began to see shifts in teacher attitudes and dispositions. One of the First Up staff shared a story of a teacher who had not rearranged her classroom in years. And while room arrangement was not part of the coaching typically provided, when the teacher asked for support making the space conducive for student collaboration, the staff member gladly obliged. The coaching model allowed time for trust to build and relationships to form. Teachers were more willing to try new strategies and take greater risks in this type of environment.


"Prenatal through grade three approaches hold incredible potential to dramatically change the trajectory of achievement gaps and to set young children on solid pathways to education and lifelong success."


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Focus on Specific Population or Area of Impact

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All grantees selected a target population, and most used more than factor—for example, socioeconomic status and dual language learners. However, several grantees homed in on an even more specific population and chose to focus on identifying and supporting children with developmental delays. Applying the concept of universal design, these grantees believed improving access for children with disabilities and special needs across the P–3 continuum ultimately leads to improved access and outcomes for all children.

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CIZ Stories from the Field

Saltsburg Elementary School in Indiana County is focusing on the alignment of professional development, curriculum, assessment, and remediation for children with dyslexia. Although the initial program focused on kindergarten and first grade students, the grantee is expanding its reach. A school district reading teacher provides training to local preschool teachers on phonemic awareness, helping to provide consistent expectations and strategies from pre-K to kindergarten. The district also provided screenings to the pre-K children. Based on those results, the pre-K program has offered extended days to support students who are struggling. After the screening, families attend a session to receive their child’s information and learn what they can do to help prepare their child for kindergarten. The grantee reports great success not only with struggling readers but with other students as well: “While our goal has been to target the children with reading issues, this very structured phonics program has also been an enrichment program for non-dyslexic students as well.”

With the All Hands-on Deck program, Saltsburg Elementary School focuses on supporting children with dyslexia. A top priority through the grant is to provide tools, strategies, and professional development to teachers to support students with reading and language deficits. To fulfill this goal, Saltsburg Elementary School was able to bring the Institute of Multi-Sensory Education to the school to learn how to incorporate an Orton-Gillingham approach into the classrooms. Research has shown that up to 30 percent of students need a multi-sensory program to learn to read, while the program benefits 100 percent of students. Teachers from pre-K through third grade attended a weeklong training to learn new teaching techniques.

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Prenatal Emphasis

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A key component of P–3 alignment strategies was the ability of CIZs to provide supports to families with young children, in their communities—beginning even before birth. Efforts by grantees focused on offering prenatal and infant and toddler programming aligned with preschool and early elementary education as the best approach to support children’s development and set the stage for future success.

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CIZ Stories from the Field

In partnership with the Derry Area School District, the United Way of Southwestern PA focused on the district’s future students by offering early learning resources and literacy materials to families—starting at birth. Programming included efforts to support parents talking, singing, and reading aloud to their children in order to foster learning opportunities at home. These programs will help ensure future success by establishing a strong educational foundation for these children for years to come.

“Five years ago, our kindergarten screener showed us we have a serious problem on our hands: 70 percent of the kids coming to us were scoring either Basic or Below Basic. This meant that instead of hitting the ground running when they entered our elementary school, far too many of our students were playing catch-up instead. We recognize that student success starts with parent engagement—after all, parents are their child’s first teachers. We needed to do a better job supporting their efforts and helping them realize we were an additional resource here to help them. So, we went to work instead on multiple opportunities for our families to surround their children with literacy from the moment they’re born.

  • Welcome Baby Package is mailed to expecting parents and provides parents of newborns with a slew of early learning resources, literacy materials, and even a bib.
  • Infant Book Club helps families receive 12 books mailed to their home over the course of their child’s first 24 months. Families are also given tips and ideas on the importance of talking, singing, and reading aloud.
  • Preschool Partners purchase helpful classroom materials to support language and literacy activities
  • Infant and Toddler Storytime events provide a forum for social interaction for infants and toddlers and their parents, grandparents, and caregivers. Those in attendance bond through interactive read-alouds, nursery rhymes, songs, and activities.
  • Teaching Tiny Trojans provides children from two to five years old with early literacy instruction, tailored to each child’s needs. These young learners experience fun and engaging educational lessons in the comfort of their home. Parents are included in the lessons so they can continue to work with their child between visits using the resources provided.

“After only a few short years with these initiatives, we’ve completely inverted our kindergarten screener data. Today, 70 percent of our students come in and score either Proficient or Advanced, and our bonds and connections with incoming students and their families have never been stronger. Surrounding our youngest children with words and helping our families ensure their children enter preschools and kindergarten ready to learn has been one of the most rewarding experiences of our careers.”


"Throughout the training, I couldn’t help but think... I wish I would have been taught these strategies when I was in school. It would have been very beneficial for me as a student. This was all made possible through the CIZ grant."


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Transition Support

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Transitioning between programs along the P–3 continuum often means both children and families are being introduced to new learning spaces, new teachers, and new routines. Many grantees focused on event- or activity-based engagement strategies, such as family nights, resource fairs, and open houses, to support these transitions. While such strategies are important and impactful, many grantees learned they had even greater success using more relationship-based strategies.

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CIZ Stories from the Field

Sto Rox School District held a transition program called “Kindergarten Boot Camp.” Families spent the morning engaged in activities in the classrooms; learning routines; working on math, science, and letter activities; and just getting comfortable with one another. The kindergarten teachers used the opportunity to have time to focus on assisting each child in transitioning to a new learning environment with a new set of expectations.

On a beautiful mid-August morning, 30 rising kindergarten students accompanied by family members stepped off the school bus and into the next chapter of their lives. Sto Rox Primary Center Principal, Lori Sims, greeted each child individually: ‘Welcome to kindergarten! Welcome to your new school! You are going to have such fun learning!’

For the next two mornings, students were engaged in Kindergarten Boot Camp activities designed to give them time to experience the building and the playground, and to meet their teachers … and one another! This gift of time to adjust to new surroundings and become familiar with routines was made possible by the CIZ grant and was, as suggested by the kindergartner quoted above, a big hit with the children and their families.

On the first day of Boot Camp, the children rode the school bus with their parent or caregiver, giving families a chance to experience this important passage in life together. The air was full of anticipation as parents and children gathered first in the library to meet some of the faculty and staff. Throughout the morning, everyone eagerly explored the kindergarten classrooms and hallways, ending with a visit to the cafeteria for a snack and a surprise backpack full of kindergarten school supplies!

On the second day, the children bravely traveled by bus to Boot Camp together without their parents! They spent the morning engaged in activities in the classrooms; learning routines; working on math, science, and letter activities; and just getting comfortable with one another. A visiting observer from the Pittsburgh Public Schools noted, ‘This is an opportunity that ALL children transitioning to kindergarten should have.’

The kindergarten teachers were also thrilled to have the opportunity to have this kind of time to focus on each child and to assist them in transitioning to a new learning environment with a new set of expectations. One teacher noted, ‘It was a great experience for both the students and the teachers! It familiarized the students to the building, riding the bus, meeting teachers and new friends before the first day of school and the addition of the grade one through three students. Also, it gave us a preview of the students who may have difficulty adjusting to school.’

Finally, one parent who is also an educator shared that her child had no problem transitioning into kindergarten after the Boot Camp experience. ‘We just loved the experience and are still talking about it at home! It was great for me to be able to attend as well so I could see what her day would be like and to meet the other parents.’ Kindergarten Boot Camp was a powerful experience, and we are thankful for the CIZ grant to support our efforts in deepening connections with families, in building trust, and in strengthening home/school partnerships with the goal of providing the best education for children, every grade, every year.”


“Welcome to Kindergarten! Welcome to your new school! You are going to have such fun learning!”



"It was a great experience for both the students and the teachers! It familiarized the students to the building, riding the bus, meeting teachers and new friends."



“We just loved the experience and are still talking about it at home! It was great for me to be able to attend as well so I could see what her day would be like and to meet the other parents.”