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Educating the little ones

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Our early childhood programs are growing the fastest! The Archdiocese of Boston has added almost 2,700 seats in the last five years and 76 of our elementary schools have early childhood programs.

 
Kathy
Mears

Catholic elementary schools frequently come to mind when people mention Catholic education. The Catholic school with kindergarteners through 8th graders is very common in the United States and, according to the National Catholic Educational Association, there are more K-8th grade schools than any other type of Catholic school in the United States.

That is changing, however, and the Archdiocese of Boston is part of that change. In our archdiocese, many Catholic secondary schools now enroll 6th, 7th and 8th graders. Our elementary schools now enroll students who are three and four years old, and some schools are now working with those children who are almost three years old. Other Catholic elementary schools are considering the possibilities of providing infant care in an effort to support families.

These shifts have caused all our schools to renew their commitment to students and their families. They have also called for our teachers to learn new things, as each age group requires different instructional strategies and different approaches, if we are to work with them successfully.

Our early childhood programs are growing the fastest! The Archdiocese of Boston has added almost 2,700 seats in the last five years and 76 of our elementary schools have early childhood programs. In addition, we have six standalone early childhood programs and that number might grow, as we have received several requests for assistance from parishes that want to offer an early childhood program. The Archdiocese of Boston is very committed to serving our youngest students. Our schools and parishes plan to expand programs in this area. Many of our schools are also able to accept vouchers and we hope to increase the number of schools that accept vouchers for early childhood education.

The Lynch Foundation has been extremely helpful to schools in the archdiocese during the process of developing robust early childhood education programs. Through their generosity, the foundation has provided professional development to our teachers to strengthen their knowledge of how children develop in this age group and in the pedagogical practices that best serve the needs of our students. In Catholic schools around the archdiocese, they have also remodeled classrooms to better serve these younger students and provided appropriate furniture and materials so that our students enjoy an engaging, challenging program that meets both their physical and intellectual needs.

Our early childhood programs are focused on developing the whole child through a variety of engaging activities that are frequently tied to play. Visiting our early childhood classrooms reminds me of the importance of play, as I see children learning how to navigate disagreements, share and put others first. These are lifelong skills that will serve our students well, no matter what opportunities their futures hold.

Students in our early childhood programs are allowed to develop all of their gifts. Art, music and dramatic play are all encouraged. Our early childhood programs focus on early literacy skills and mathematical skills. Our students are learning that they have many talents from God and that it is important that they use their gifts to help others and to praise God.

Another very important aspect of our early childhood programs is the faith component. Our youngest students learn about God and Jesus. They learn that Mary is the Mother of God and these students are also learning their prayers and how to express gratitude to their creator.

While we do not spend significant time giving our earliest students many assessments, we have assessed their readiness for kindergarten and the results have been impressive. Overall, approximately 90 percent of students who attend our early childhood programs are ready to begin kindergarten. Approximately 20 percent of children who participate in our early learning programs have pre-emergent reading skills, which provides these students a "head start" on the learning process that will serve them well throughout their lives. These scores indicate that our early childhood programs are doing a very good job with these children.

Early childhood education is one way that our Church will continue to serve families. Offering families services for their children is critically important, as it is a way to evangelize and to assist parents in providing faith formation for their children. As the primary educators of their children in matters of the faith, this is extremely important.

Families are at the heart of our Church. Our schools work to support parents who are raising children in a very complex and secular world. Please join me in prayer for the success of these programs as both institutions of learning and more importantly, of faith.

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