Getting the Word Out

Southern Door School District is joining the rest of Door County schools this spring as it invites area three- and four-year-olds to its Early Childhood Development days, to look for kids who need developmental help before they get to school.

In past years, the school had sent out Parent and Child Together (PACT) booklets to parents, asking them to do activities with their children and send their observations on their children’s development back to the school. Children with developmental issues were brought in to school for another screening.

“You sat down with your kid in different times throughout different days so it wouldn’t get boring,” said Hope DeFere, who has filled out PACT booklets for three of her five children. “You went through it and saw what they knew in the book and what they didn’t, and saw what they had to work on.”

Finding the time to sit down with just one of her five children and go through a booklet of skill tests wasn’t easy. DeFere’s older children would want to chime in with right answers, and she said parents are inclined to think their children already have the skills the PACT booklets look for, which could lead to inaccurate answers.

Even Sara LeRoy, a first grade teacher at Southern Door, found the PACT booklet to be a little complicated.

“I have a four-year-old right now, so last year we used the packets,” LeRoy said. “Even as a teacher I had so many questions about what I should put for this, or what kind of information do they want for this, and if I had concerns about my child [it would be] hard for me to know if my concerns were valid.

“I teach six- and seven-year-olds. For me to know what’s appropriate for what a two- or three-year-old should be doing is a whole different ball game.”

LeRoy’s two-year-old and DeFere’s youngest children will go to Southern Door’s Early Childhood Development days, where they’ll rotate through activities that require things such as cognition, social and emotional skills, communication, and large and small motor skills. The Door County Health Department will be there to provide vision and hearing screenings, too.

The days will help identify students who need help developing certain skills so they can get early help and won’t fall behind later on. An early childhood development screening program is required by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

“Our goal is to reduce the number of students who need special needs later on in their school career by intervening early,” said Brittney Mader, Southern Door early childhood special education teacher.

The day will also double as a community gathering. Resources for children and parents, such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, daycares and the library will set up booths about their programs, and teachers will meet children and parents. Mader hopes it will be a good introduction to school.

“It’s so important at that age to get the families involved at school, especially because some parents didn’t have a good experience at school,” Mader said. “We want them to be comfortable at Southern Door so they know their kids are in good hands.”

Other Door County public schools have similar childhood development screening days. Sturgeon Bay screens twice a year – in the fall by sending a packet home for three-year-olds and in the spring by inviting four-year-olds into school. That way, the kids are a little older and more comfortable around strangers when they are at the development days.

“Either way, the parents are a big part of it because we gather health history information,” said Ann Smejkal, Sturgeon Bay Elementary School principal. “We’re really trying to help inform parents as to being sure their children are developing appropriately.”

Smejkal said getting parents to participate isn’t always easy, and Sturgeon Bay’s early childhood development participation has dropped in the last few years, though she doesn’t know why.

“We don’t always have all the contact information,” she said. “We take information from the census, and publicize [the event] the best we can out in the community. I would say our participation has fallen off a bit, so we look for any way we can to get the word out there.”

For more information on early childhood development screening, contact your local school district.