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OSPI looks at additional educational supports

by JOEL MARTIN
Staff Writer | November 14, 2022 12:32 PM

OLYMPIA — Washington’s youngest learners need an extra boost, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal said Thursday in a press conference.

“Roughly 20 to 25% of Washington students enter kindergarten needing additional supports in literacy. That's a big number. We obviously get 70%, 80% of those students to important standards by the end, and we graduate 85-plus (percent) or more of our students. So we make great progress. But the work involved in the challenges for young people when they come not quite prepared for kindergarten is significant. And we can do something about that.”

One thing Reykdal said Washington is doing about that is partnering with singer/actress Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library program. Children who sign up for the Imagination Library can have one age-appropriate book mailed to them every month from birth to age 5, according to the Imagination Library Washington website. The Washington Legislature has entered into an agreement with Imagination Library to provide matching funds to local organizations to expand the program statewide, Reeykdal said, using surplus money from emergency relief funds.

“We have recently received some data from surveys conducted with local affiliates and their families that participate, to see the value in the impacts of what this program is bringing to households and to children, and what skills are they bringing and what's their interest level in reading,” said Brooke Fisher Clark, executive director of Imagination Library in Washington. “We were really delighted to discover that 91% of respondents saw positive changes in their children in terms of early literacy skills, social and listening development, increased interest in reading and so many other areas.”

Washington is the 11th state to make such a partnership with Imagination Library, according to the organization’s website. Reykdal added that Washington has recently unveiled an initiative to make the program bilingual.

Reykdal also announced that his office would request $60 million over the space of two years for the purpose of buying school supplies in bulk, to assist families that have difficulty affording them.

“Our notion here is to remove all the costs to those traditional consumable school supplies that in some places are asked of families to bring themselves we want that to be a part of going to school in basic ed,” Reykdal said. “This will save families hundreds of dollars. And it will clearly make an expectation of young people that everyone is welcome at our doors and there isn't a barrier the moment they arrive for the basic things they need: paper pencils, pens and other things to be a successful student in our system.”

Finally, Reykdal said that his office would push the Legislature for more funding for transitional kindergarten, programs designed for 4-year-olds who need additional preparation to be ready for kindergarten. Currently, 93 school districts in Washington are serving about 3,100 students through TK programs, Reykdal said, but many more students could be benefiting.

“The evidence is becoming very, very powerful that this jump start is an enormous opportunity and a great investment,” Reykdal said. “Eighty percent of Washington's preschool-aged children don't have access to state-funded preschool. And TK is an important option available to children who qualify.”

Joel Martin can be reached via email at jmartin@columbiabasinherald.com.

Have young readers at home?

To sign up for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library program for young readers, visit bit.ly/IMLIBR.

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