By LINDSAY POWERS
ANNAPOLIS (October 26, 2010)Prince George's County is in the early stages of addressing how to help Hispanic children and other English-language learners gain more early childhood education so they are better prepared for kindergarten.
The "School Readiness for English Language Learners Working Group" expects to make recommendations that will help to prevent these children from falling behind later in their education.
According to the Maryland State Department of Education, school readiness is "the stage of human development that enables a child to engage in, and benefit from, early learning experiences."
Data for Prince George's County gathered through the Maryland Model for School Readiness for the 2009-2010 school year shows that 62 percent of "English Language Learners," or children whose first language is not English, were considered fully ready for school. By comparison, 71 percent of "English-proficient" children were fully ready for school, as cited by a Ready At Five report.
"Persons of Hispanic or Latino origin" made up 13.5 percent of the county's population in 2009, according to the U.S. Census Bureau website.
The county's working group includes representatives from various parts of the public school system as well as other programs and organizations such as the Maryland State Parental Information Resource Center and CentroNia.
One of the main goals of the working group is to find ways to reach out to families that might not otherwise know the resources available for young children.
Jessica Shiller, education director for Advocates for Children and Youth and the nonprofit's representative in the working group, said a lack of outreach to English-language learning families is a major barrier in the county.
"They need to have an education system that responds to a diverse community," said Shiller.
Recognizing that the system can be hard to maneuver, especially for families new to the country, the group is considering how to best consolidate information about the various programs and resources available.
William R. Hite, Jr., superintendent of Prince George's County Public Schools, described a goal for a "one-stop-shop for parents."
In a recent meeting, the group worked to develop a list that included early education programs under the county's public school system as well as organizations run by the state, local governments or nonprofits with either their own programs or ties to education opportunities in the area.
Members also emphasized the importance of including resource centers on the list that would provide information on related issues such as homelessness, pregnancy aid and childcare services.
Another important component is how to get that information out to places where it will be seen and help direct families to the appropriate programs.
Alison Hanks-Sloan, supervisor of the Prince George's County Public Schools' English for Speakers of Other Languages Program, and chair of the working group, said these methods might include television and radio advertisements as well as websites.
Another consideration for the group is whether English-language learning children should be given priority for admission to certain early education programs.
While early education remains the current focus, the group's agenda has recently expanded to include discussions about how to provide additional support to English-language learning high school students before they take the Maryland High School Assessments.
"It's been a learning curve for everybody involved," Hanks-Sloan said.