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Caminitos collaborative seeks to put pre-K students on road to college

Posted by Jayme Blaschke
University News Service
November 19, 2013

An innovative program at Texas State University, the Caminitos Collaborative, is working to put nearly 400 young children on the path to higher education.

Caminitos, or "little roads," is a multi-disciplinary collaborative offering services including a graduate research project, comprehensive developmental assessments, assistance in the pre-K classrooms, professional development and parent involvement for the families of the students. The Caminitos Collaborative is working with 4-year-olds and their families in the Pre-K Center at Hernandez Elementary in San Marcos.

“Caminitos is a unique intervention model that involves a multidisciplinary partnership,” said Betsy Blunk of the School of Family and Consumer Sciences. “Phase I of the project was implemented in fall 2010/spring 2011 as a parent involvement initiative that focused on a culturally responsive family-school-university collaborative partnership to support children’s school success. Phase II represented a direct approach to student success by creating small group and individual tutoring experience with the pre-kindergarten children to enhance academic achievement."

This school year, state spending on pre-K is growing, according to the Education Commission of the States. The group found that despite widespread cuts in state funding to K-12 programs, appropriations for pre-K programs serving four-year-olds increased nationwide by $181 million, or 3.6 percent, to $5.3billion from the previous year.

In the 2011-2012 school year, the Kindergarten Readiness System (KRS) was launched in Texas. The system streamlines data collection, is available statewide at no cost and has a shortened designation timeline. In San Marcos, the Caminitos Collaborative was born out of the Core 4 group, consisting of the San Marcos School District, the City of San Marcos, Hays County and Texas State.

"Texas State is very pleased to be a partner in the Core 4 group, and help establish the foundation for universal pre-K education in our community," said Texas State Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Gene Bourgeois. "We want to change our world for the better, and I am hopeful that Caminitos will do just that for the children that participate, helping them to be ready for grade school and therefore setting them up for success throughout the rest of their educational careers and lives."

The collaborative has allowed professionals from multiple disciplines to share in the development of this strategic and much-needed outreach.

"The nature of working with children in a preschool classroom requires a framework of multi-disciplinary thinking,” said Dianne Pape of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction in the College of Education. “Children’s cognitive engagement, by nature, is influenced by their physical capabilities, social and emotional capacities, as well as their ability to think creatively and problem solve.

"All of us in the Caminitos Collaborative are being enriched by the experiences with the Hernandez children and families, particularly as those experiences dovetail with the excellent speakers and authors to whom we have been exposed," she said.

Part of the early childhood research and service includes a motor skills and developmental assessment.

"With the prevalence of childhood obesity on the rise, it is imperative that we increase young children’s confidence in movement," said Jennifer Ahrens from the Department of Health and Human Performance. "It is our hope that we can establish value in physical activity that will follow them through adulthood."

Three key components for preparing future generations to be college and career ready are community involvement, early childhood literacy, and the non-duplication of resources. These help to comprise a shared vision of success here in San Marcos between the primary, secondary and post-secondary schools. The Caminitos Collaborative is maximizing the opportunity at Hernandez Elementary by integrating their unique knowledge and resources in order to realize the vision for these future professionals.

“Whether it is the early childhood education interns or the Caminitos staff—the extra hands help us to continue to provide the positive learning experiences needed to help close the school-readiness gap,” said Rosemary Garza, principal of Hernandez Elementary.

The ultimate aim is to facilitate academic success through a collaboration of research, community engagement, and university preparation, in order to enhance each child’s readiness in math, literacy and social skills.

“We know that early childhood is an optimal period for children to cognitively develop. By providing all children with increased opportunities for learning, we expect to see increased readiness for kindergarten and beyond,” said Michelle Hamilton, director of the Center for P-16 Initiatives.

The collaborative will continue their research and service at Hernandez until May 2014.