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Program helps assess preschoolers' needs

(Washington, CT)


BRISTOL -- Ten delegates from Bristol's school readiness program will attend training at Villanova University to become experts on a program that helps develop well-adjusted and well-balanced preschoolers -- hopefully leading to well-balanced adults.

"As parents proceed through the parenthood experience, issues arise as to what is developmentally appropriate. Should my child be refusing to go to bed, should he or she be having nightmares, my child doesn't want to sleep in his bed," said Marilyn Lobaczewski, executive director at Bristol Preschool Childcare Center.

The program, called the Devereux Early Childhood Assessment (DECA) tool, helps parents and teachers identify and evaluate the social and emotional development needs of children.

The DECA tool is used by the Bristol Preschool Childcare Center and helps the teachers evaluate the children. It relies on three important factors that determine whether someone will be successful in life, said Mary-Alice Petrucelli-Timek, grant manager for the Bristol school readiness program.

Coral Richardson, director of child-care services at the Bristol Boys and Girls Club, said that facility just started employing the program fully in the spring, but so far it's been "very useful."

"It's a nice way to share information for teachers and parents," Richardson said. "It tells us how we can address and service children that may have some concerns."

The tool has also increased credibility between the child-care providers and the parents.

The participants in the training will all become certified in the DECA tool, which will allow teachers to see where a child's strengths are, and what areas might be improved.

With the tool, teachers and parents each fill out a 27-question survey about a child. It measures three areas: attachment, self control and initiative. The teacher can then chart the results of which area the student is strong in, and in which areas the child may need help.

"A teacher gets to look at their own classroom and make the classroom a better place for the children," Petrucelli-Timek said.

A child who is low in the attachment area will have trouble developing trusting relationships. By using the assessment technique, preschool teachers can identify that need and plan activities to foster development in that area.

For example, with a child who has high separation anxiety, the preschooler often will bring in pictures of family members to show the child that the parent is still very much a part of his or her day.

"Our program is geared towards partnering with families to promote attachments," Lobaczewski said.

The tool also provides a way for parents and teachers to combine the child's school and home and brings them together to offer the child a unified world.

"We learn about each child's family and culture," Lobaczewski said. "At school, [we] try to familiarize ourselves with home language. We may also exchange information between parent and school -- to show the child there's a partnership with the family -- to make the child more comfortable."

The program's success in preschool has also persuaded the Board of Education to expand the program into kindergarten. In November, kindergarten teachers will attend training to be able to use the program to assess their students.

Bristol Preschool has been using the program for the past three years, and Laura McGill is one teacher who has used the program with her class of 4-year-olds.

McGill said the tool has been helpful for her because she's able to review the children's assessment in the previous year and compare it to the current year.

It also allows the preschool to make mentoring partnerships among the children. A child who might be low in one area can be paired with a child who is high in that area. The partnership fosters development in that particular area.

This helps McGill target areas for a child's improvement and gives her an idea of what sort of lessons and activities to plan for her class. Parents have fully supported the program by offering 100 percent participation in the survey this year.

The Bristol Press 2002


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