Photo courtesy of Cedar Ridge School District.

How can we measure children’s development? We must rely on insight from those closest to them. Throughout the school year, teachers have the opportunity to witness key facets of students’ cognitive, emotional, physical, and social growth. They are able to see where kids are excelling, and where they may need additional support. 

In Excel by Eight (E8) Communities like Independence County, locally-led steering committees are leveraging data from kindergarten teachers, gathered through the Early Development Instrument (EDI), to improve health and education outcomes for all children. Take Cedar Ridge Schools as an example. With input and buy-in from educators, the district has decided to make school readiness a priority. Learn more in this Q&A with Abbi Limbaugh, director of curriculum for elementary schools.

Why has Cedar Ridge prioritized school readiness?
Research consistently shows early childhood is a critical period of brain development, with long-term impacts on future learning and success. We believe bringing children to school at an young age will help them develop the skills they need for elementary—and beyond. Starting with our Early Childhood Center, we are focused on providing a safe, nurturing environment with positive relationships and relevant experiences that allow students to thrive. 

What initiatives or programs has the district implemented?
We are a strong proponent of parental, family, and community involvement. We encourage younger siblings of school-age children to attend our Early Childhood Center. We also recommend the center’s students and families visit our kindergarten classrooms and elementary facilities, so they can become more comfortable with the environment. To further ease the transition, our pre-K and kindergarten teachers collaborate on curriculum to ensure kids have age-appropriate skills. If needed, we provide developmental therapies, including mental health services. In all classes, we use Arkansas Child Development and Early Learning Standards.

Why do you believe these efforts have been so successful?
Together, these initiatives and programs help ease the transition between preschool and kindergarten for both children and their families. Students know in advance what is expected of them, so they can succeed in and out of the classroom. At the same time, parents feel comfortable, and encouraged, to take an active role in their children’s learning. 

What lessons can other school districts learn from Cedar Ridge?
Districts can build a strong foundation for children’s futures by providing a high-quality environment where they feel safe, cared for, and receive positive, engaging experiences.

What additional resources are needed to boost school readiness statewide?
We must focus on strengthening families’ involvement in early childhood education programs; implementing behavior guidance strategies; and educating parents about the importance of early care as well as their continued engagement in children’s academic and social activities.

Learn more about the EDI and how it’s informing E8’s efforts to help all children thrive here.