Try this Early Enrollment Activity
In February, our transition teams organize a “Parent Welcome Center” in each of the schools where Ready Freddy is involved in transition planning, and pre-K facilities that have students who feed in to Ready Freddy schools. We collaborate with school staff, volunteers from community based organizations and parents to staff the parent welcome center every day of the week. A time is chosen that is responsive to the parents we are recruiting to register, for instance, close to the entrance, for one hour during drop off and one hour during pick up times if there is a pre-K in the elementary school building.
Parents are encouraged to come to the school to register their child for kindergarten for the following fall, have some refreshments, meet all of the kindergarten teachers and take a tour of the kindergarten classroom. This activity helps to establish a welcoming atmosphere, give parents an opportunity to ask any outstanding questions, build a connection with school staff, and become familiar with the school building. Other school districts may choose to have a Parent Welcome Centers later, in the spring.
Below are Frequently Asked Questions by parents that volunteers staffing the Parent Welcome Center should be prepared to answer.
- Can I choose my kindergarten teacher?
- When will I find out who my child’s kindergarten teacher is?
- Can I come and volunteer in the school? Do I need clearances?
- What is the kindergarten curriculum?
- Who can I call to voice a complaint about the School District?
- I have a group of parents who want their voices to be heard about some things with the school/the District. Who should we speak to?
- What paperwork do I need in order to register my child?
- Can I take the registration packet and bring it back?
- If my child’s pre-K program has her immunization records and a copy of her birth certificate, can they transfer it over to the elementary school?
- Do I still need to register if I registered at another school?
- What types of things does Ready Freddy offer?
- How can I get more involved with what you are doing?
- What should my child know by the time she or he gets to kindergarten?
- When will I know if my child has been accepted into the school? When will they send me something?
- How do I fill out these forms?
What are some of the elements that make a “Parent Welcome Center” successful?
Recruitment affects the number of parents who will attend the Parent Welcome Center. Involving the pre-K staff in the transition team meeting or enlisting them in recruitment is vital. The school can mail flyers home, but the pre-K teachers must hand flyers to parents and speak to them as they see them, and place stickers on the children as reminders. Home visits, large colorful enrollment banners, door to door outreach, and reaching out to community daycares are additional strategies:
It’s important to have competent, caring, diligent, pleasant people staffing the event.
• Competent – It is best if school personnel are key staff members in the “Parent Welcome Center.” Having two people manage the event allows one person to stay at the location of the Parent Welcome Center in the building, while the other person can step away to make copies, show parents and children where to go for kindergarten classroom tours, go to the office for additional information when parents pose questions they can’t answer, etc.
•Caring – The people staffing the event should genuinely care about helping parents and children, feel comfortable in the school and have some skill in engaging children and parents. If they are not already familiar with Ready Freddy, it would be helpful to orient them to the resources available through this program. A caring person will try harder and push themselves to go the extra mile and “get to every parent” because they genuinely feel the cause is important
• Diligent — A staff person must take the initiative to approach every parent and child, ensure that each parent signs the contact sheet (so that you can recruit them for subsequent transition activities), that all the Parent Welcome Center materials are available and that all parents and children are directed to the proper places, look through the completed packets to be sure they are properly completed, and get the completed packets to the right person.
•Pleasant — A staff person must provide good “customer service” by being as warm, welcoming, professional, and accommodating as possible with parents and their children. Greet them, offer refreshments, and ensure they are comfortable. This can make or break the Parent Welcome Center and a parent’s impression of the school.
The packet should be as thin and simple to complete as possible. Some schools seem to include in the packet everything they might need to know from parents, assuming that it may not be possible to reach the parent again to complete more paperwork. However, a packet that looks too thick may deter a parent from staying to complete it. An appropriately-sized packet could include a primary demographics form, the emergency contact form, a basic medical form, and a photo release form.
Each site’s volunteers and transition team should be trained by the data entry person at that school on the contents of the packet and how the packet should be filled out. (A person from outside of the school (volunteer or community partner) may be unsure about what needs to be completed, what parents can turn in later, etc.).
Preparation involves readying the building for the event and ensuring that all the materials needed are there. It is most helpful if the relevant areas of the school are decorated to show that there is a special event happening, with signage directing families and volunteers to the location of the Parent Welcome Center. All materials needed for the Parent Welcome Center should be set up before the event begins. For some parents, this is their first experience with their child’s school, and preparation helps maintain a professional appearance. Be organized and keep a tidy space.
Volunteers and parents need to be able to navigate the building easily, with signage that explains who they should be speaking with and where they should go. In a particularly large site, if a person is able to be at the entrance where families enter, that person can walk families over or direct them to the Parent Welcome Center. Volunteers need to know where the relevant spaces are (the Parent Welcome Center, the front office, the copier and other office supplies like staplers, staples, paper clips and pencils, the bathroom, where Parent Welcome Center supplies are kept, and the location of the primary contact person for the site). The Welcome Center should be as close to the building entrance as possible, preferably on the same floor.
Front office staff are the employees who are typically the site’s first point of contact for guests in the building. They must be aware of what is happening during the Parent Welcome Center week (does registration happen every day/evening?) so that they can direct parents and volunteers. Front office staff can also help by posting flyers or wearing a Ready Freddy button or shirt. Having a pleasant demeanor helps, along with knowledge of the kindergarten registration process. Ideally, front office staff can be involved in transition team meetings. Unfortunately, in many schools there is only one person to field phone calls and questions from visitors, hence asking them to be away from their desk for a meeting may be difficult.
Kindergarten classroom tours are very appealing to parents and children, if this is possible to do in your building. It’s best to show families each classroom, since you wouldn’t know yet to which classroom and teacher a particular child will be assigned. Ideally, parents will be able to meet an enthusiastic teacher and have a chance to talk individually with her or him, rather than meeting the teacher as part of a large group.
Points of Investigation for Your District
The following are a few questions that it would be helpful for you to know the answer to as you embark upon this endeavor. These can also become things that you can advocate for if they are not present.
- Is there a streamlined timeline of logistical notifications from pre-enrollment notification to the first day of school that is publicized to families. If so, what is the outline?
- Are families able to transfer enrollment paperwork from Pre-K to Kindergarten
- Front office and school staff training on customer service, welcoming families, general PPS questions and administering and receiving a training on the process of completing registration papers (what papers should be completed, what parents should do with the papers they keep), etc.
- Does your district have a streamlined district-wide enrollment packet with only mandatory forms?
- Do kindergarten teachers have a space to discuss or exchange portfolios with pre-K teachers regarding their incoming students?
- What data source does your district receive projected kindergarten enrollment? What are those projections based on?
- What is the process of entering completed enrollment information into a computerized data system? How does each school and your district keep track of completed registration forms?
- Does your district have low kindergarten enrollment numbers? Why?