The school year approaches, and it’s time to start thinking about kindergarten.
We understand many questions can come to mind in the process of preparing your child, and yourself, for that first year in “big school.” Is my child ready? Do we enroll now, or wait a year? What is the best environment for my child? And of course the overarching question: With so many options available, where should we go?
As of this year, High Hopes is officially tossing our name into that discussion. Our inaugural kindergarten class will be in session starting in August, and if you are looking for a strong, tight-knit, highly qualified school environment where your child can begin their academic journey, we may be just the place for you.
In this post, we will outline what our kindergarten will look like – the practical application and benefits of a truly inclusive model of education, the experience and knowledge provided by a highly qualified staff, the deep level of resources available to ensure each child’s complete success, and of course all the fun we’re going to have!
Inclusion – That’s Just a Fancy Word for Special Education, Right? WRONG!
While an inclusive education environment does provide some overlap with a special education program’s goals and methods, a truly inclusive model is not a special education program. The inclusive model we will utilize in our kindergarten classroom is the same one we have been practicing in the preschool for 34 years.
The High Hopes model of inclusion is a very intentional one, one that places children who have diagnosed special needs in a classroom environment with children who are typically-developing for every minute of every day at school.
The classroom’s roster will be comprised of only fourteen children. With two full-time teachers already in place for the fall, an incredible 1:7 maximum teacher-to-student ratio will be the day-to-day in High Hopes Kindergarten. For context, the maximum kindergarten class size in the state of Tennessee is 25 children, with most kindergartens employing only one full-time teacher to a classroom.
Of those fourteen children, 60% will be children that are typically developing, and 40% will have a diagnosed special need. All day long, each child will be equally engaged in every activity and in every aspect of the curriculum, regardless of their ability level.
Our lower teacher-to-student ratios will allow a much higher level of individualized education, teaching the state-approved curriculum using the methods and adaptable materials that best suit each student’s specific learning styles and strengths. It will also allow our teachers to set specific goals for each child in the classroom, and to work closely with parents and caregivers throughout the school year to ensure that each child reaches their highest potential.
Nationally-normed standardized testing and evaluation methods will be utilized as children progress, to ensure that each kindergarten student, whether typically-developing or differently-abled, is learning the skills they need to be successful in their academic career moving forward.
My Child Is Typically-Developing. Why Is High Hopes Right for Us?
The High Hopes Kindergarten program is a state-approved kindergarten program which will be held in a newly-constructed, state-of-the-art facility. The curriculum is aligned with Tennessee state academic standards as outlined by the Department of Education, and will be overseen by Gail Powell, the High Hopes Executive Director with over 19 years of experience in academic administration.
Our lead kindergarten teacher, Kelcie Iles, brings four years of elementary teaching experience to the table. She has earned experience in Special Education and in Kindergarten Inclusion in the Williamson County School System. Her undergraduate degree is in Elementary Education with concentrations in Special Education and Literacy, and she is currently earning a graduate degree from Lipscomb University in Applied Behavior Analysis.
Beyond the qualifications on her résumé, Kelcie is passionate about inclusion and early education, and is excited to bring that passion and excitement into her classroom at High Hopes every day.
A familiar face to those with ties to the preschool will be serving as the full-time teacher assistant. Kristie Cates has served on the teaching staff in the High Hopes Inclusive Preschool for nearly two years, with an infectious joy and patience. Outside of High Hopes, Kristie has worked in special education environments and in kindergarten classrooms both in Franklin Special and Williamson County School Districts. She, too, holds an undergraduate degree in Early Childhood Education, with an emphasis on special education.
With their combined experience and education, this teaching team is a strong pair with a wide knowledge base, dedicated to bringing the highest standards of education into their kindergarten classroom.
The foundational curriculum will be of the highest quality, a McGraw Hill program called the Tennessee Reading Wonders Program. This is the same state-approved curriculum program used in Williamson County Schools. So when the time comes to transition from kindergarten into Williamson County Schools or many other school districts in the state of Tennessee, there will be no disconnect or gaps to overcome.
High Hopes also offers a music program, which will be integrated into our kindergarten curriculum, led by a dedicated music teacher. Kathleen Guidry earned her undergraduate degree in Music and Early Education, with a minor in music for special education. She has been a part of High Hopes for five years, and has been working with the High Hopes Inclusive Preschool as a full-time member of the teaching staff for the 2017-2018 school year.
In case of illness or medical emergency, you can rest assured that High Hopes is prepared. With a full-time, dedicated school nurse on site during the school day, any medical concerns can be addressed by a qualified medical professional. Elizabeth Franklin, certified as an LPN, has been the dedicated nurse in the High Hopes Inclusive Preschool for two years, and looks forward to serving in the new school year with excitement and confidence.
The benefits of inclusion are many. Research shows that the benefits of inclusion for children with special needs are almost immeasurable, with early inclusion setting them up for greater success in a traditional school environment than many ever believed possible. Every child who is typically-developing that enrolls in an inclusive program makes it possible for a child with special needs to reap those benefits.
Currently, High Hopes is the subject of doctoral research, cooperating with Lipscomb University, to explore and determine the benefits of an inclusive education for children who are typically-developing. We have embraced this opportunity to have scholarly research done, which we feel confident will support what we have always seen in our students who are typically-developing: deep compassion and a nurturing instinct for others, alongside a heightened awareness and acceptance of differences in their peers. Look for the results of Lipscomb’s doctoral research in this subject soon!
Moreover, the High Hopes community is a tightly-knit one. Parents, teachers, administrative staff, therapists, and volunteers all seek to support one another through open communication, intentional collaboration, and genuine friendship. The culture that we strive to create together is one of acceptance and unconditional love, working to be the village that it takes to raise a child.
Some of the parents who have enrolled their children in the kindergarten are already beginning to create that sense of community and shared culture together. They have been spending time getting to know each other, and building goals, expectations, and relationships for the kindergarten’s inaugural year at High Hopes. They look forward to expanding that community, becoming a solid foundation and support system for every child enrolled in the High Hopes kindergarten classroom.
The High Hopes Kindergarten program wants to be a safe place, a nurturing environment that can foster the greatest accomplishments for every child in its care. The long and short of it is, High Hopes wants to be there for every step of your child’s kindergarten journey.
But Don’t Just Take It From Us…
Kimberly McCall is the parent of a future kindergarten student who is typically-developing, and she has taken the time to share with us why she is so excited to have her child participate in the High Hopes inaugural Kindergarten classroom. Check out what she has to say below.
So What Now?
If you think that High Hopes may be the place for your rising kindergartener (or a friend’s!), or if you want to open a conversation to explore that possibility, please contact Gail Powell or Jessica Mizell. They will be happy to talk with you and provide you with all the information you need to make this crucial decision for your family.
We hope to see you in the fall!