Growing By Leaps and Bounds – LEAP Initiative Helps PreK Students Prepare for Kindergarten – AmeriCorps LEAP Initiative
AmeriCorps LEAP (Learning Early Achieves Potential) Initiative serves the littlest learners to help them start school on a positive note. The LEAP Initiative, a partnership between ServeMinnesota and the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, places AmeriCorps members in preschool classrooms and nonprofit organizations to support the social and emotional development of PreK children.
LEAP member Amy Miller served her third year at La Crescent Montessori and STEM School, after two years at Dakota Area Community School. She ensured that PreK children have the foundation for learning, achieving, and succeeding in school and life by being “the extra eyes and heart in the room.” Classroom teachers are responsible for the whole room and cannot stop a lesson to attend to one child who looks sad or frustrated. “As a LEAP member,” Amy says, “I am able to step aside with students in need.”
Each morning Amy checked in with her students to see how they were feeling and worked with them on feelings journals. “At circle time,” she says, “I sat among the children and sang, danced, and got to be silly right along with them. I helped the kids that struggle to stay focused by sitting near them or offering solutions to help them stay calm so they can learn.”
As a mother, Amy saw how important social and emotional skills were for her children to successfully transition to Kindergarten. Because the brain is particularly sensitive to input in the first five years of life, enriching experiences during this time help create the pathways for learning far beyond Kindergarten. “LEAP provides children with the tools and extra support to help them reach their full potential,” she says.
Amy supported her students academically with read-alouds and focused work on alphabet sounds. These activities help to build early literacy skills which predict later reading success. She loved serving with the LEAP Initiative because she saw the impact of her time and effort every day. Amy says, “I feel like our kids are more in tune to their feelings along with the feelings of others and have a deeper love of reading because of my presence.”
She is proud of the choices her students took to be aware of their own emotions within a social context. “When a 4-year-old recognizes that her friend is sad and offers solutions; a frustrated 3-year-old stops and takes deep breaths before acting; a 5-year-old chooses to sit in a rocking chair instead of spinning and distracting friends at the rug – these behaviors make a world of difference in our learning environment.”
Last year, LEAP members worked with more than 200 PreK children in southern Minnesota. Nearly all of the students (94%) showed gains in all 36 proficiencies for school readiness as measured by Teaching Strategies Gold Social-Emotional Proficiency Skill Year-End Assessment. Students served by LEAP are equipped with the social-emotional and early learning skills needed to transition to Kindergarten and on track to succeed in future learning.