Bullying sign in Kennett Middle

This sign in the hallway of Kennett Middle School reminds students that bullying is not acceptable.

In the past two years, I have had the opportunity to experience the Kennett school system in action because of my involvement in the Kindergarten Readiness Collaboration.

The town of Kennett depends on an excellent school system to support the economic growth and life of the community and I can say unequivocally that the Kennett Consolidated School District goes the extra mile to assure students are reaching their potential in a respectful and supportive environment.

Dr. Tomasetti says, “I often get questions from persons moving into the area about the quality of education with the growing percentage of Latino students. I continue to speak to our commitment to the academic achievement of every student, regardless of race, color or creed. Our teachers work extremely hard to plan and deliver differentiated lessons with a focus on moving all students forward.”

The school district is “walking the talk.” From the first day, a grassroots group started addressing early education and created a collaboration around school readiness, Kennett school administration was on board. April Reynolds, kindergarten principal as well as several teachers and staff members along with Dr. Barry Tomasetti, the school superintendent, all attend bi-monthly meetings. At these meetings, they make it clear that they want the best for the students even before they start kindergarten and they will volunteer their time to help with this outreach.

There is a whole body of research on how caregivers can encourage brain development before a child starts any formal learning in school. Ron Ferguson, an economist at Harvard, has made a career out of studying the achievement gap — the well-documented learning gap that exists between kids of different races and socioeconomic statuses.

But even he was surprised to discover that gap visible with "stark differences" by just age 2, meaning "kids aren't halfway to kindergarten and they're already well behind their peers."

Mary D Lang has now opened its doors to parenting classes, provided by The Family Center of the Maternal and Child Health Consortium with the hope that vulnerable families are given the tools and the resources to help children from birth to five years with brain development. This is an effort above and beyond other school districts in the area with the pay-off being children and families having a better chance to start their engagement with formal education on an even playing field.

This is the second year that these classes are being held both spring and autumn sessions and this year with the Longwood Rotary joining the effort with financial and volunteer help.

Another program that the Kennett school district has gone above and beyond was started two years ago to address the need for Latino parents to become involved in their child’s education. The program is called APEX/Parents for Educational Excellence. It was known that in Mexico the educational component was left to the teachers. In Kennett school district they are trying to help parents understand that there is a place for them in helping their child reach academic success.

Once a month, Kennett Cafe en Familia meets at an informal gathering spot at Kennett Middle School for parents. Talking points at the meetings have included issues of concern for Latino parents throughout the school district: mental health; drug and alcohol abuse; as well as information on who does what in the district, through question-and-answer sessions with school administrators. The Café continues to have a great turnout because one of the elements of the APEX program is to enlist parents to serve as volunteer messengers, organizers and recruiters. Parent to parent is an empowering part of the process.

In 2012, KCSD Board went the extra mile when they agreed to continue the Walk In kNowledge (WIN) Program with Loretta Perna as director. A 21st Century Community grant had run out and new funding needed to be pursued.

Through the persuasion of Mexican families and their children, this rigorous high school after-school tutorial program continues today and is going strong. This program is open to all students and is credited for the high rate of vulnerable students graduating and moving on to college.

Finally, to assure the school environment is a nurturing and safe place, the entire Kennett Administration attended a leadership training two years ago, put on by Crime Victims Center on Respect and Cultural Humility----fundamental principles for everyone. After this experience Dr. Jeremy Hritz, Kennett High School Principal, formed a team of student leaders to also become educated by the Crimes Victims Center. From this involvement Dr. Hritz gained input from the student leaders on what was effective and what needed to be added for maximum effectiveness.

As a result, all Kennett High School students have had the opportunity to be educated by the West Chester Crimes Victims Center and these opportunities will be provided each school year.

Academically, socially and spiritually, Kennett School District is doing a great job! This all comes with effort and yes, sometimes things not always going perfectly, yet the vision is there---Each child is honored and deserves to reach his/her greatest potential with the school, family and community actively involved in assuring this vision is reached.

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