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The key to helping children get ready for kindergarten lies first in knowing what they need. Spartanburg County’s youngest residents will have a head start with evidence-based support targeted to help all children be ready to start school and succeed in the classroom.

National Institute for Children’s Health Quality (NICHQ) and StriveTogether selected Spartanburg County and Spartanburg Academic Movement (SAM) as a community partner to focus on child development from birth to age 3, one of 29 such communities across the country selected to participate in the PN – 3 Impact and Improvement Network.

Jennifer Blatz, president and CEO of StriveTogether, said the support provided to each selected community is tailored to the local need.

“All of these partnerships are working across the cradle to career,” she said. “We support these communities in their work and facilitate cross-country, peer-to-peer training. We don’t come in with a prescriptive program. It’s very much contextualized to the needs of the community.”

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Blatz praised the collaboration in Spartanburg County, especially among SAM and the county’s school district superintendents, for having the common goal of increasing kindergarten readiness across the county.

“When I’m in the SAM office, there is data everywhere,” Blatz said. “The team is really focused on what the data tells them.”

Ida Thompson, program and network manager with SAM, said research in brain development has informed what her organization does.

“We want every child in Spartanburg County under the age of 5 to receive a developmental screening as early as possible,” she said.

Parents who live in the county can fill out a questionnaire which assesses a child's communication, gross motor, fine motor, problem solving and personal social skills.

“We will share with them the results and connect them with an organization called Help Me Grow,” Thompson said.

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If the screening shows any concerns or delays, Help Me Grow caseworkers will work with families. Some families may qualify for assistance through South Carolina’s BabyNet program, but Thompson said too many children do not qualify for BabyNet but still have delays.

“We’re trying to capture those that don’t get caught into the system, so that every child in Spartanburg County that has a delay has an opportunity for intervention,” she said.

Kindergarten readiness includes all areas of development – emotional, social, physical and mental.

Data from the early development instrument, which is utilized by all Spartanburg County school districts, is geo-mapped using census data, Thompson said. This allows community programs, such as the library system’s bookmobile, to plan programs based on where the needs are.

Colleen Murphy, project director with NICHQ, said the path to kindergarten readiness starts even before birth.

“So many people talk about kindergarten readiness as if it happens when they turn 5,” she said. “This prenatal – 3 impact and improvement network is so exciting and valuable because it is only focusing on the prenatal – 3 piece.”

Murphy said no two states, cities, counties or communities are the same, so it is critical that local partners implement strategies that work best in their community.

“It’s building upon work that they’ve already started there,” she said. “They already know what their challenges and barriers and gaps are.”

Murphy said SAM’s free assessment of all the county’s children is important.

“So often what we see is really only the highest risk children getting services and getting screenings,” she said. “You have this middle chunk of children who are right on the borderline. If they get a little bit of intervention, we can help prevent them from dropping down.”

Early intervention also saves communities money in the long run, Murphy said. She encourages parents to participate.

“You cannot fail because all children are always developing,” she said. “It’s just to highlight if your child could be at risk of having or developing some kind of delay or problem. Over 80 percent of the children screened are meeting all of their milestones. There is still value to the family, even if they are on track.”

Families will know what to expect as their child develops and they will receive activities to do with their child as they grow.

“Every activity is designed to use things that are already in the home,” Murphy said. “It gives you ideas. There is more benefit than just screening the child.”

To learn more and access the questionnaire, visit http://www.learnwithsam.org.

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