By Elizabeth Tarpy Alcalde College of Arts and Sciences In the basement of the Hilltop Lutheran Church, you’ll find Hilltop Preschool, a nonprofit organization offering free preschool to residents of the Hilltop area, on Columbus’ west side. Operated under Columbus Mayor Coleman’s Early Start Columbus program, the school’s students and their families struggle — all […]
Preschoolers take in story time at the Hilltop Preschool.
By Elizabeth Tarpy Alcalde
College of Arts and Sciences
In the basement of the Hilltop Lutheran Church, you’ll find Hilltop Preschool, a nonprofit organization offering free preschool to residents of the Hilltop area, on Columbus’ west side. Operated under Columbus Mayor Coleman’s Early Start Columbus program, the school’s students and their families struggle — all of the children come from families who are below 125 percent of the poverty level.
The realities that Hilltop preschoolers face every day are daunting:
• 61 percent of the children have been identified with developmental delays
• 40 percent live with a parent with a known substance abuse problem
• 27 percent have a parent who has been incarcerated
• 20 percent are learning English as a second language
In October 2014, 67 percent of Hilltop Preschool students were assessed falling “below average” on a nation-wide research-based series of questions for children in the year before they enter kindergarten, to determine whether they have the early literacy skills they need to become readers. Only 33 percent of the students achieved scores of “average” or “above average.”
Laura Moehrman, executive director of the Hilltop Preschool — now in its 7th year — knew she had to do something. She also knew she had little to no money to hire a new teacher or specialist. Fortunately, the preschool’s co-founder and board president, Jane Leach — an Ohio State alumna — was familiar with the groundbreaking work in literacy intervention taking place at Ohio State’s Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic. She encouraged Moehrman to give Ohio State a call.
“We were thrilled to get the opportunity to go out into the community,” said Gail Whitelaw, director of the Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic. “We would be the first clinic to be on-site in a pre-K early literacy intervention program.”
Over the course of 11 weeks, from March through May 2015, Ellen Bonk, licensed clinical supervisor at the clinic, and two graduate students from the clinic’s Speech Language Pathology MA Training Program — Breann Voytko and Kateyln Seitz — spent every Tuesday and Friday, two hours per day, at Hilltop Preschool working with students, their teachers and staff on targeted literacy-based skills in the classrooms.
The intervention services provided by Bonk and the graduate students was informed by curriculum developed by Laura Justice, EHE distinguished professor, Ohio State’s College of Education and Human Ecology. The curriculum, Read It Again-PreK! is designed to develop and strengthen young children’s early foundations in language and literacy. It provides a systematic, explicit and flexible approach to building children’s skills in four key areas of language and literacy: vocabulary, narrative, phonological awareness and print knowledge.
Armed with copies of Giggle, Giggle, Quack; Clifford Goes to Dog; and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, Bonk and her students gathered their “Bumblebees” and “Grasshoppers” into reading groups and started with the fundamentals.
“Concepts of print were targeted at the beginning of the book-reading session to reinforce and apply knowledge about titles, authors, illustrators and other aspects of the book,” explained Bonk. “Our intervention sessions focused on two themes: phonological awareness (e.g., syllables, rhyming, first sounds) and ‘story sense’ concepts (e.g., character, setting, sequencing, major events, cause and effect).”
Having Bonk and her graduate students on site tripled student contact hours and increased the exposure to new skills for both Hilltop’s teachers and parents.
“Multiple exposure to consistent use of the same concept terms through a variety of activities is key in developing skills,” said Voytko.
At the conclusion of the 11-week intervention program, the preschoolers were tested to determine if their earlier literacy scores had changed.
“Eighty-nine percent of our students demonstrated higher literacy scores and 67 percent achieved “average” or “above average” on the GET READY TO READ! screening tool,” said Moehrman. “Those are simply remarkable statistics considering the many challenges we faced.”
Students were not the only ones who benefited from the Ohio State partnership.
“Our teachers benefitted from the modeling of techniques for speech, language and literacy concepts provided by Ellen and her students,” said Moehrman. “And our parents were empowered with information and skills to support their young developing readers, through take home sheets, scripts, special family events and parent/teacher conferences.”
For Ohio State students, working in the community is an invaluable lesson.
“Our whole field — speech and hearing science — is so rewarding,” said Voytko. “At the end of the day, you get to go home and know you’ve made a difference.”
For more information on the Ohio State Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic – Hilltop Preschool partnership, contact Gail Whitelaw, clinic director, at firstname.lastname@example.org.