When kids are young, they are like sponges.  Every new experience, every new word, newfound observation, and newly adopted behavior is an opportunity for learning and an investment in their life-long success.  It’s also an investment in the future of our community.

Study after study reach the same conclusion: early childhood education has a titanic impact on life outcomes.  In fact, you can never have a more wide-reaching influence on a person than when they are in their early childhood years. 

Most parents have innately understood this for years.  But, until recently, the government had all but failed to do so.  Now, with Kindergarten curriculum and expectations at an all-time high, local school districts in Wyoming are stepping in—and up—with innovative early childhood education solutions to help parents and educators pick up the slack.   

A Helping Hand

Have you ever needed a boost?  What if you did, but were unable to identify that need for yourself?  How, then, might you go about getting the help you needed?  (For example, if you were three years old and already behind your peers in play, socialization and learning?).  The answer is simple: you wouldn’t, until now. 

For the past three years, Kendra Barney has been with Sheridan County School District #1 (SCSD #1), serving as its rockstar early childhood liaison.  She joined the district after eight years of teaching at the Campbell County Early Childhood Education Center in Gillette, where she was inspired to focus on early childhood special education. 

These days, she travels, or “floats”, between classrooms and offices across multiple schools and counties within the district.  She’s responsible for personalizing learning for young kids, aged 0-5.  Specifically, those who are in kindergarten and, perhaps more importantly, those who are preparing to enter into kindergarten. 

“Whatever their needs or their parents’ needs, Kendra supports and supplements those needs,” said SCSD #1 Business Manager Jeremy Smith.  “She’s our go-to gal; the district’s early childhood education everything.”

Recently, we were privileged to catch up with the busy liaison and this year’s Superintendent’s Award-winner for a quick Q&A.  We asked about her role, its impact and the next steps she hopes to take. 

Here’s what she had to say.

Kendra, what do you do exactly?

My role in the district is to increase school readiness skills of children birth through age five in our communities.  At the SCSD #1, we believe that by encouraging families to be actively involved in their child’s education early on, we give children a head start at long-term educational success.  To accomplish this, we’re committed to providing the curriculum, educational resources and trainings, and an early education community.  I run two programs that promote our mission.  These are Learning with Littles and a Preschool Co-op.

Learning with Littles is an hour-long play group hosted each week throughout the school year for children aged 0-5.  I provide the educational setting and modeling for what it looks like to learn through play.  Parents stay for the hour and participate in learning with their child or children.  This time also provides parents the opportunity to connect with other parents who have similarly aged children.  As SCSD #1 is rural, it’s very important to us that we connect families.  The program is provided in Big Horn and in Ranchester, and we are proud to have grown it from 6-8 children to 30 children in each community.

The Preschool Co-op is provided in Ranchester, and is for children who are age four, and getting ready to enter into KinderBoost or Kindergarten the following year.  The best part about the Preschool Co-op is that it’s free and that it’s run, in-part, by parents.  I teach the preschool, but part of the agreement is the parents help co-teach or volunteer in some capacity.  Our focus is reaching children in our community that may not be able to afford preschool and to provide support to families by giving their child an educational start before they enter elementary school.

What’s a KinderBoost?

The Pre-K program at Big Horn Elementary Preschool is called KinderBoost.  The program, which follows the Big Horn Elementary School (BHES) calendar, takes place Monday through Thursday from 7:55 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Big Horn Preschool on the BHES campus, which is located at 333 WY-335 in Sheridan. 

KinderBoost is designed to assist children with a seamless transition into Kindergarten.  This is accomplished through the building of a strong core foundation from which each child can and will bolster, or “boost”, their respective academic and social success. 

Parents of children who participate can expect for their child to enter into a positive, nurturing and caring environment in which their child will have the opportunity to build and strengthen self-esteem and self-concept through socialization and play.   

The vibe in a BH Preschool KinderBoost classroom is one of tolerance, kindness and sensitivity to the needs of children.  My colleague and friend BH Preschool Teacher Lesley Thompson, describes it like this, “We will foster a positive building of self-esteem among our students and kindness will be stressed at all times.”

Parents, grandparents and community members volunteer to help in KinderBoost classrooms, chaperone family-friendly and on-campus events and field trips, and provide tutoring services.  If your child joins the program, you can expect to see improvements in the cognitive, physical, social and emotional development of their child. 

Research and data show that young children learn and develop math, reading, writing and social skills through play and hands-on, age-appropriate experiences.  Experiences and learning opportunities which can help to better prepare them for the rigors of Kindergarten, school and, ultimately, life. 

What are other related issues you hope to explore?

Parents, especially in the Tongue River Valley, know the value of early childhood education, and understand that it’s important.  They can see what’s developmentally appropriate and want to be able to attain that for their children.  That’s huge!  They simply need affordability.  I want to continue to work to make that an option for these parents. 

More parent outreach would be a big one, as well.  A lot of our SCSD #1 parents and future SCSD #1 parents are already invested in our program, and its successes.  But, I see myself working to expand those programs like Love & Logic parenting class and Itty-Bitty Sports, and the district’s relationships with their respective agencies and organizations.  That’s important to me. 

We’re firm believers in the fact that parents are the first and best teachers early on.  My primary function as early childhood liaison, is to support and maintain the things our kids and parents need, and to help supplement those need.  All with the goal and focus that when those kids enter our doors for Kindergarten, irrespective of their socioeconomic backgrounds, that they come to us with the tools and skillsets needed to be successful students, respectively.    

Boosting Success

“Our district provides a range of academic and extracurricular opportunities for students—encouraging students to explore and develop their talents through participation in these activities is an important part of their educational experience.  And, here (in Sheridan), that begins even before Kindergarten with our successful KinderBoost program lead by teacher Lesley Thompson and Principal Kathy Powers, with the support of the SCSD #1 Central Office in Ranchester, and the entire administrative staff and faculty there,” said SCSD #1 Superintendent Marty Kobza.  “We also offer several opportunities to unite parents, students and the community.  These forums, led by Kendra Barney, promote two-way communication and joint problem solving, boosting academic success for all our kids.”

To say this woman wears many hats would not be an understatement—it would be the understatement. 

By: Stephanie L. Scarcliff for 82801

If you have a kid aged 0-5 and live within SCSD #1 limits, contact Kendra today at (307) 655-9541.  For more information about the KinderBoost program or to schedule a visit or tour, visit sheridan.k12.wy.us.  Space is limited.

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