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eSN Special Report: Closing Gaps Early

Located in Marion County, a rural area of north central Florida, the town of Weirsdale doesn’t offer many opportunities for preschool education. The median family income in the county is around $37,000, or $12,000 less than the state average, and about one in 10 families lives below the poverty line.

As a result, many children are starting their formal education already well behind where they should be, according to the Florida Kindergarten Readiness Screener. In fact, some students enter kindergarten not knowing any letters or sounds, said Chris Sandy, principal of Stanton-Weirsdale Elementary School.

“It’s amazing to me that a child can walk in the door and not even know the letter ‘M’ for McDonald’s,” Sandy said, noting that the normally ubiquitous fast-food chain hardly exists in her community.

The staff at Sandy’s school work tirelessly to get these students up to speed as quickly as possible, using a combination of software and other supports. A central component of their efforts is the Waterford Early Learning program from the nonprofit Waterford Institute.

“It’s a full-court press to close those gaps and give students a chance at a high-quality education,” she says.

But these efforts are paying off, as Sandy says all of her students are functioning at or near grade level when they leave kindergarten.

The challenges facing Stanton-Weirsdale are common to many elementary schools nationwide, as the number of children arriving for kindergarten already behind their peers is on the rise. In this Special Report, we’ll take a closer look at how some schools are succeeding at closing learning gaps early....

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