(This article appeared in King Street Center’s Fall 2018 newsletter, mailed to over 3,500 homes! If you’d like to receive our semi-annual newsletter, contact susannah@kingstreetcenter.org)

Did you know that across the country, the highest rate of school expulsion is from preschool?

“Young children are being expelled from preschool at an astonishing rate, often because of challenging behaviors such as aggression, tantrums, and noncompliance,” reports Zero to Three, an advocacy organization in Washington DC. “Over the years, we have certainly seen our fair share of difficult behavior,” says Early Education Director Stacy Weinberger, “but we strongly believe that all children can be successful. We recognize that by shifting our approach and creating a responsive environment, we can support children in gaining new skills. With multi-tiered supports, we aim to teach rather than punish.”

Mandy & LandonKing Street Center is home to an Early Head Start Toddler Program and a Head Start Preschool. Borrowing from the Pyramid Model, the teaching team know that all kids benefit from positive ground-level relationships, a quality learning environment, targeted social & emotional supports, and finally, intensive intervention when necessary. None of this work is done in a vacuum, but involves parents and community partners. Executive Director Vicky Smith says, “Embracing the whole family is a chance to support positive, systemic, and meaningful development.” Long-time therapeutic partner Howard Center also provides on-site interventions for specific children, but also share best practices with all the teachers and kids.

Toddlers and Preschoolers are just learning to cut paper or pour their own drink. Before reprimanding a frustrated child for being unsafe with scissors or punishing a child who accidentally spills milk across the table, teachers know that they need to clearly show and reinforce these basic skills. Kids will practice family style eating, serving, and pouring by using bowls filled with pom poms and tissue paper. Students use their tongs to “serve” and practice passing. Instead of teachers cutting out shapes in advance of a project, children are taught to cut everything! Paper, playdough, string, basil – you name it.

Parents are learning as well. Mother Mandy Dion appreciates that teachers keep a journal to notice what might cause her son, Landon, to be aggressive. Quick re-direction, a run in the gym, or special time on the classroom swing helps him to be more successful during his day.
Dion loves that teachers also “catch” Landon being good, reinforcing his progress. Sam Fried, a Preschool teacher who is in her 5th year teaching at King Street Center says, “Parents can be honest about struggles at home. We have the kind of relationship where we can give and receive feedback. We ask, ‘What have you tried?’ It’s important that we trust the family’s knowledge of their own kids. Their good advice even helps with other children in the room.”

Dion values the advice of Howard Center’s Mary Collett. “She gives me statements to practice at home with Landon. Simple things like using a ‘calm body’ help because he hears these same words at King Street. He’s been having really good days lately.”