Early education experts gather to improve Lake County kindergarten readiness
Early education faculty, administrators and experts gathered Wednesday in Round Lake for a first-of-its-kind event to share ideas, forge partnerships and potentially start a new group to improve birth-to-kindergarten education throughout Lake County.
The Lake County Early Education Summit at the Round Lake Area Park District's Robert W. Rolek Center featured a panel discussion with experts from local, county and state governments, as well as people working in nonprofits and community organizations.
"The whole purpose was to make sure everyone in Lake County who is working on a birth through 5-year-old education initiative will be working all together and make sure we aren't crashing into each other," said Judy Armstrong, who helped organize the summit.
Speakers included: Tom Layman, who works on early childhood development in Gov. J.B. Pritzker's office; Nicole Johnson, a birth-through-third grade education administrator in North Chicago District 187; Diana Neilander, a manager for United Way of Lake County; Jon Ashworth, the health equity coordinator for the Lake County Health Department; and Eric Apgar, the assistant superintendent of educational services for Round Lake Area Unit District 116.
Armstrong, a founding member of the Round Lake Area B.E.S.T. Kindergarten Readiness Committee, said she and others created the committee after hearing that around 95% of children entering District 116 weren't prepared for kindergarten success.
Through the committee's efforts, which include networking with local organizations and reaching out to parents, Armstrong said that percentage has fallen to about 70% in just over five years. She said the solution they've found is to connect parents with existing services involving state, county or local groups.
"Everyone in early childhood education knows parents must be first teachers," Armstrong said. "All parents want what is best for their children, but often parents are unsure what to do for their child's early success."
The summit is one of the first major attempts to take efforts that have begun to pay off in the Round Lake area and apply them to all of Lake County. Armstrong said each of the 58 people who attended the summit were invited to join a new committee focused on improving early education readiness that she hopes will function countywide.
Anderson said everyone at the summit will receive a survey about what the group's next steps.
"It is a very exciting time," she said. "I feel we've moved out from our own little galaxy in Round Lake into the universe of Lake County."