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Westbury library teams with group for school readiness

Sandra Salazar and her son Alejandro Velasco, 3,

Sandra Salazar and her son Alejandro Velasco, 3, of Westbury, go through the alphabet at the Westbury Library, which holds a program to improve childhood readiness for school. (Aug. 2, 2013) Credit: Johnny Milano

The Friday morning children's program at the Westbury Memorial Public Library often draws more than a dozen preschoolers who sing songs and follow the stories read aloud by library staff.

The program has been going on for years, but there has been a recent push to publicize it as a way to get students more ready for school.

"We have to get out into the community and let them know we are here and we have these programs and services," said Emily Farrell, head of the children's library.

Promoting such literacy efforts was one of the steps taken after the results of a survey of school readiness were shared in Westbury with community leaders and educators in a program run by the Early Years Institute in Plainview.

The Westbury school district was one of 40 districts participating nationwide in the pilot program, in which kindergarten teachers analyzed the school readiness of students in their classes.

The assessment, called the Early Development Instrument, provided a snapshot that "gives individuals, organizations and community leaders the information they need to work more effectively to improve the lives of children," said Dana Friedman, president of the Early Years Institute.

The survey was taken by kindergarten teachers online and collected information about children in participating geographic areas. They broke down the data into seven neighborhoods in Westbury to show where some of the most vulnerable children lived. That way, educators and local leaders could look at where best to apply resources, Friedman said.

Eudes Budhai, interim assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction and personnel, said the survey will help address the needs of district students by particular geographical locations.

The Early Years Institute "has been instrumental in community development and empowerment for the social/emotional/physical and academic needs of our students and their families," Budhai said in a statement.

The assessment, conducted in collaboration with the University of California, Los Angeles, and United Way Worldwide, asked about areas known to affect well-being and school performance. Those areas include physical health, social competence, emotional maturity, and language, cognitive and communications skills, as well as general knowledge.

The data were collected after the first five months of school in 2010 and 2012.

Overall, about 13 percent to 20 percent of the children surveyed in all neighborhoods were considered very ready for school, while 11 percent to 20 percent of children were considered developmentally vulnerable. Geographically, the New Cassel neighborhood and an industrial area in Westbury had the most -- 20 percent of the students -- who were considered developmentally vulnerable in two or more areas. But vulnerabilities were identified in all neighborhoods, Friedman stressed.

A Westbury Leadership Team, composed of members from across the community, received the data and completed a number of interventions. For example, school supplies were donated to prekindergarten and kindergarten children, an outdoor classroom is in the planning and design stages, books have been donated to several outreach organizations and a science-based STEM curriculum was implemented for students age 3 to third grade.

While the Westbury project is well underway, the institute is hoping to expand this to other communities and is looking for grant opportunities or public funding to do so. In Westbury, there was no cost to the district. The institute raised private funds for the program.

Librarians who work in Westbury Children's Library have been meeting with parent groups and attended preschool registration.

Parent Seema Rai often takes her 3-year-old daughter, Eesha, to the programs at the library. "I want her to be prepared for the time she goes to school," Rai said.

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