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Just a glimpse at the Moms & Tots® Graduate Research: June 2015:

On Friday, July 25, 2014 the Literacy Council Gulf Coast® held its third graduation for six Fort Myers tots at Tice United Methodist Church. Five of the six tots and their families attended the ceremony. The graduation in Bonita Springs was the following Friday, Aug. 1, 2014, for 26 graduates and many proud family members. Seventeen tots participated in the ninth annual Moms & Tots® Family Literacy Program graduation ceremony.

All 32 graduates were from Lee County this year. Two children enrolled in Kindergarten. Five children qualified for the Head Start program at Bonita Springs Elementary and two qualified and entered the Early Head Start program for three year olds at Bonita Elementary. Several children have moved. Three children did not attend any VPK program because their parents decided to have him/her stay at home instead. All other students entered a VPK program either in the public school system or a state sponsored VPK program at a private day care facility.

An evaluation questionnaire for the classroom teacher to fill out in regard to the academic progress of each student was hand delivered to three public elementary schools in Fort Myers. Five public elementary schools in the Bonita Springs area, and three private VPK daycare centers also received hand delivered evaluation questionnaires for the classroom teacher to fill out. Fifteen evaluations were completed and returned to the Literacy Council in a timely manner.

Our goal at the Council is for the children to begin school on an even level as their peers through English language instruction. Closing the achievement gap and eliminating the language barrier is important for their educational success. To evaluate the program, a rubric assessment is completed on each child before graduation at the Literacy Council. As with all children, they develop with different abilities. Some children are very shy and are just beginning to be able to separate without anxiety from their moms while other children are verbally articulate in English before graduating. Some of our children are so unstructured that to learn to sit, listen to a story and learn to say please and thank you appropriately is quite an accomplishment. All this information is recorded on the rubric in order to make a fair comparison of their academic growth from graduation through their first year in the public school system.

One of our graduates was not quite three years old. Since his sister was in Head Start at Bonita Elementary, the program decided to let him enter the Early Head Start Program since he only missed the cut off date by three days. On the Ages and Stages Questionnaire, he scored high in all areas. He was very shy and had a hard time joining in group activities. Since the beginning of the school year, he was always eager to learn. When he began school, he knew most colors and some letters. He enjoyed playing with puzzles and cars. The teacher stated that he is a very bright boy. He actively participates in class discussions now and enjoys being read to.

The Literacy Council has also had a close relationship with the owners of Peppermint Tree Day Care and Preschool. Three of our student graduates attended Peppermint Tree, which is located directly behind one of our Moms & Tots programs in San Carlos Park. During the VPK Graduation at the end of the year at Peppermint Tree, one of our graduates won the award for Most Advanced! She is already reading and writing. The owner and teachers always tell us that our program is wonderful and they are very impressed with our mission.

One mother and her daughter came from Guatemala during the early summer of 2014. The mother had never had an opportunity to attend school in her native country. She could not read or write in dialect and her daughter was academically behind and only spoke dialect. Both mother and daughter learned some English during the few months they attended the program. During the initial Kindergarten assessment, the daughter scored at the one percentile. She shows signs of an eagerness to learn social skills and needs to continue to learn age appropriate academic skills.

Many of the mothers in Fort Myers do not know much about the public school system because they have had very little or no education in their native countries. The Literacy Council Gulf Coast encourages moms to participate in their child’s education at school, at the Moms & Tots® Program, and at home since moms are their children’s first teacher!

Some administrators and teachers have passed out flyers promoting our Moms & Tots® program in their neighborhoods. They have commented that we’re doing a great job helping others with literacy.

Teachers’ comments include:
1. She had knowledge of numbers, letters, and colors when entering VPK.
2. She is somewhat immature and has tantrums when things did not go her way. Now she is much better at accepting positive criticism and learning from it.
3. She is eager to learn.
4. He scored high in all academic areas but was very shy in class.
5. He was quiet and shy. He would only speak Spanish when VPK started.
6. He did not cry!
7. At the beginning of VPK he was academically below expectations. By the end of the year, he exceeded academic expectations.
8. He will do a great job in Kindergarten!
9. While his above scores fall below expectations, he scored higher than most of his Spanish speaking peers who had little or no English training.
10. She knew how to behave.
11. She is on the retention list for Kindergarten due to lack of English acquisition. If she would have attended the Moms and Tots program longer, I think she would have been fine.
12. She was ready for school and eager to learn.
13. She is a very helpful student.
14. She was very social, eager to learn and ready for school.
15. The parents were excited and appreciative of him being in the Head Start Program.
16. He loves books, storytelling, and block building (engineering)!
17. He was very shy and quiet. He knew several alphabet letters and could write a few letters in his name.
18. She had a difficult time with separation from parents.
19. He enjoys learning in Early Head Start. He makes friends easily.
20. He learns quickly. He is also very active!
21. He would not speak English at the beginning of the VPK school year. He had limited independent skills.
22. She is a sweet child and excited about school.
23. He knows all uppercase and lowercase letters in Head Start.

Some teachers have stressed that there is still a language barrier for their students. It is so important that the parents’ English has progressed enough that they are able to help their children academically with homework.

One teacher stated: “Thank you for all you have done for her and her family. You have a wonderful program. We teachers truly appreciate it!” Other teachers have stated that it is important for the LCGC to continue with the great work with these families.

The Literacy Council encourages our moms to continue in the Moms & Tots® program even when their child moves on to a public school system. Some do stay with the program and bring their child/children to our class when there is no school and during the summer school vacation. Those children love coming back to the program. It is wonderful for the LCGC staff to see the progress they make. It also allows the families and the Literacy Council to stay connected and help them when problems occurs.

All in all, the recommendations for our program are positive. Some suggestions from the Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten teachers are:
1. To continue alphabet knowledge and number identification
2. To teach parents ways to incorporate education in play
3. To provide lots of visuals
4. To provide verbal skills
5. To provide picture reading
6. To practice blending sounds
7. To continue letter sounds and phonological awareness
8. To clap out syllables
9. To provide English vocabulary
10. To focus on letter recognition and sounds
11. To focus on blending and deletion
12. To focus on print knowledge
13. To focus on writing their name
14. To sing more nursery rhymes
15. To use appropriate finger plays for children and parents to share together in English
16. To follow simple directions
17. To encourage parents to read to their child at home
18. To provide more English conversation

In conclusion, the Moms & Tots® Program at the Literacy Council Gulf Coast has fulfilled its goal of preparing young ESL children to begin school on an even level with their peers. And according to the feedback of our student questionnaire, the Moms & Tots® program has exceeded these goals for most of our student graduates.