Thursday, September 28, 2017

Importance of kindergarten attendance cannot be overstated, Food for Fuel program in the spotlight

In the interest of increasing children’s learning opportunities, last year our district joined with Cohoes to ask our elected officials to sponsor legislation to lower the mandatory age for school attendance from six to five years-old in our respective communities. Gov. Cuomo signed the bill into law in early September, which coincidentally is National School Attendance Awareness Month.

The path to academic success begins early. Research has determined that kindergarten students who attend school regularly outperform their peers by first grade. Conversely, children who are frequently absent in kindergarten show lower levels of achievement in math, reading and other fundamental skills during first grade. That same research shows that youngsters who continue on the path of chronic absence -- defined as 18 or more days in a school year -- through first grade, are less likely to read proficiently in third grade. That is why it is so important for all of us as a community to build good attendance habits from the start in an effort to support student success in the long term.

According to Attendance Works, the effects of poor attendance are most evident among children from low-income households who need more time in the classroom to master reading and are less likely to have access to resources outside of school to help them catch up. We see that in our district where  children are entering school with highly diverse levels of academic readiness. By lowering the compulsory attendance age to five, our hope is that our youngest students will attend school more consistently and our families will recognize the importance of kindergarten and its role in providing the foundation essential for school success in later years. (Attendance Works is a national organization dedicated to improving the policy, practice and research around attendance.)

As educators, we understand that kindergarten plays a pivotal role in preparing children for school and for learning. I applaud Assemblyman John McDonald and Sen. Neil Breslin for recognizing this, and I thank them for their support of this legislation to make attendance mandatory, as it will ensure 5-year-old children receive the educational benefits that early learning programs provide.

Lights, camera, Food for Fuel!

In addition to being school attendance month, September is also Hunger Action Month. With 75-80 percent of our student population qualifying for free- and reduced-price school lunch, we know that many of our students lack access to regular meals when school is not in session.

In an effort to alleviate hunger for our students in need, last year we joined forces with the Watervliet Civic Center to launch the Food for Fuel program, which provides backpacks filled with nutritious food for the weekend to elementary students referred by teachers or other staff members. Funding for Food for Fuel was obtained with grants and donations from United Way Greater Capital Region, Walmart, SEFCU, J,M, McDonald Foundation, Kinderhook Bank, Alfred Z. Solomon Charitable Trust and the Watervliet Teacher's Association.

This week, our Food for Fuel program was the focus of Backpack Heroes, a month-long fundraising initiative sponsored by CBS 6 and Fidelis Care that supports the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York in its effort to combat weekend hunger for students in local communities, including our Food for Fuel program.

A CBS 6 news crew along with venerable news anchor Liz Bishop interviewed several of our students, parents and staff members about the benefits of the Food for Fuel program. [Go to CBS 6 news video] CBS 6 and Fidelis Care also organized a live phone bank at the elementary school to raise money for the Regional Food Bank. The event, which was broadcast live on Channel 6, was a huge success -- raising $10,000.

I could not be more proud of our Board of Education members, teachers, staff and administrators who volunteered their time working the phones. I especially thank Don Stevens, Geraldine Ferris and Civic Center Director Bill Sheehy for their behind-the-scenes work with CBS 6, Fidelis Care and the Regional Food Bank on this important initiative. My gratitude to CBS 6 and Liz Bishop as well for visiting our school and highlighting this program.

To help combat hunger year round, I encourage you to visit the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York website to learn how you can help the organization take action against local hunger through volunteering or donating.