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United Way: Success by 6 filling preschool gaps

Updated: March 27, 2013 2:12AM

GURNEE — When the United Way of Lake County launched its Success by 6 kindergarten readiness program in 2006, Glenda Abbott recalled, gaps in early-childhood education could be seen in visits with preschoolers in Waukegan.

“I remember so many of those little students who were so eager to learn, but had never touched a book and didn’t understand their shapes and their colors,” said Abbott, the agency’s community impact chair. “They really were not ready for kindergarten. They didn’t really have a chance.”

Six years later, Abbott told a gathering of the agency’s board of directors Thursday night that “I know that we’re moving the needle” after investing nearly $3 million in early-learning clubs, home visits, distribution of kindergarten-readiness calendars and workbooks, grants to local partners, and allocations to agencies that support the goals of the program.

Abbott pointed specifically to the results of surveys with 578 children entering kindergarten last year at seven Waukegan schools — Carmen Buckner, Clearview, Cooke Magnet, Glen Flora, Hyde Park, Lyon and North — that showed 41 percent of them were measured “ready to start school” in a set of key skills that range from recognizing colors to writing their name.

That figure compares to 29 percent when a similar survey was conducted in 2009, and 6 percent when the project began in 2006. Board Chairman Debra Lake said she looks at the numbers as “solid evidence that our programs are working, and we are making a remarkable difference in the lives of families with children.”

“We’ve been one of the national leaders in addressing the issue of education,” added Lake, “giving students in Lake County a solid foundation and making sure there’s a solid path from birth to high-school graduation.”

Among the findings of the kindergarten surveys, which also fielded responses on household information from 76 percent of the students’ parents:

Participation in early-learning clubs or home visits sponsored by the United Way rose from 29 percent of the students in 2006 to 39 percent in 2012. Children participating in either of those programs scored higher that the overall field in all readiness categories.

Between the 2006 survey and 2012, the number of households where English was the primary language spoken at home rose from 27 percent to 43 percent. Participants in the 2012 study were 79 percent Latino.

In gauging how often children watched TV, the 2006 survey showed 44 percent of respondents reporting that they watched more than three hours per day ,and the 2012 survey had 32 percent watching more than two hours.

While children living below the poverty level scored lower on the key-skills assessments, they matched children in higher economic conditions for the first time when it came to engaging with books.

According to Michelle Crombie, vice president of community impact, the Success by 6 project served 1,000 children in early-learning clubs in 2012 and is looking to bring in 1,250 in 2013 — 650 in Waukegan, 450 in the Round Lake area and 150 in North Chicago. By 2015, the program has a goal of reaching 60 percent when it comes to Waukegan children measured as ready to start kindergarten.

“Our programs are not only making a difference, but we can prove that they make a difference,” Crombie said. “The community as a whole, since Success by 6 started, has really pulled together around (the concept) early learning.”

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