Innovative Norfolk School Aims to Prepare All Children for Kindergarten

A recent study conducted by the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning (CASTL) at the University of Virginia, shows that 34 percent of children in Virginia who are entering kindergarten lack key skills. The study was commissioned and funded by advocacy group Elevate Early Education (E3) and served as an impetus for an exciting new partnership between CASTL and E3. Led by Amanda Williford, CASTL faculty and staff are combing forces with E3 to create a new and innovative laboratory school: The ‘New E3 School’ in Norfolk. The goal is to better prepare all children between ages one and five for kindergarten-readiness. The New E3 School, which opened its doors last February, is having its official kick-off this week.

The $3.5 million state-of-the-art facility will serve as a model for early childhood education statewide. CASTL is developing the school’s curriculum and professional development approach, drawing from effective prior work such as MyTeachingPartner coaching and MTP-Math/Science, to create an innovative and compressive early childhood program. The curriculum focuses on five important pillars: Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math (S.T.E.A.M.). But as Dr Bridget Hamre, one of the lead scientists on the project notes, “The curriculum really build from the latest science about how young children learn, with a focus on supporting teachers to interact with children in ways that help them become, critical thinkers, problem solvers and effective communicators early on in life.  It is these skills, coupled with early academic skills in STEAM and literacy, that help set young children on a pathway to success in kindergarten and beyond. “

In addition to an innovative curriculum, the New E3 School’s goal is to draw in children from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. Children ages one to five from all income levels will be able to attend the school, regardless of their zip code and proximity to the school building on Granby Street in Norfolk. The school will serve 104 students spread across nine classrooms.

According to E3 and CASTL, the school has the potential to advance early education in the region, state and nationally.

The official kick-off meeting will be held on Wednesday September 9. Attendees, among others, are Norfolk Mayor Paul Fraim, Secretary of Education Ann Holton, representatives from the offices of senator Mark Warner and congressman Scot Rigell. Dr. Bridget Hamre, associate research professor at the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning, will be one of the key speakers at the event.