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Engaging parents is an essential part of supporting the development of children who are part of the most at-risk population in the community, according to this preschool educator in north central Michigan.
This subscriber spotlight is based on an interview with Nichole Keister, Director/Lead Teacher at Bangor North Preschool within the Bangor Township School system in Bay City, Michigan.
What to send home to parents to support family involvement is important to this preschool director—and that’s where Early Years comes into play.
Bay City is located in the Great Lakes Bay Region along the Saginaw River and the banks of Lake Huron. Amidst its water-oriented lifestyle with a multitude of marinas and frequent festivals, Bay City enjoys a cost of living 27 percent lower than the national average. Nichole Keister was born in Bay City and has been teaching and then leading programs for preschoolers there for a total of 14 years.
As Director/Lead Teacher for Bangor North Preschool, Nichole is proud of this state-funded preschool program that offers a full-day high-quality preschool experience for 54 children who must qualify for enrollment based upon family income. As with many communities, the mix of income levels in the area means there is poverty and a need for services. The students at Bangor North receive free breakfast, lunch, and snacks while they’re there, and—unusually for a preschool program—transportation is offered.
“Because we are an at-risk program, we need to do tons of family involvement,” said Nichole. “One of my teachers brought Early Years to my attention last year, and we’ve found it to be an easy way to communicate with families.”
Nichole knows the value of involving parents since she taught at the program for 12 years before also becoming its Director two years ago. She makes sure parents of Bangor North students are part of the learning experience as she designs a creative curriculum with classrooms set up into various interest areas.
Describing her program as learning through play, she is quick to point out that the strategy is intentional.
“It’s not just, ‘Kids love Legos. I’m going to throw out Legos’, said Nichole. “It’s very, ‘This is a fun puzzle, but it’s also a 1-through-20 puzzle.’ I would say we definitely use play-based learning with very intentional teaching.”
Early Years has become a great at-home piece for Bangor North, filling the need to involve parents in the curriculum—something that Nichole points out can easily be forgotten.
“Early Years is rather inexpensive and makes it easy to check off the box for increasing family involvement. It comes every month and we send it home in the paper version because of the community we serve. A lot of the articles are things we would say in newsletters ourselves if we were writing them. I enjoy reading it every month when I first get it. Actually, we’ve gotten lesson plan ideas from it!”
When Nichole recently received the email about the Early Bird renewal offer for Early Years, she went to her staff to see how everyone felt. She also sent home a survey to parents.
“I asked parents if they read the newsletter. Did they find the information helpful? Would they recommend us renewing? And what did they like? We received very positive feedback on those questions,” said Nichole. “And that’s why we decided we were going to renew again for next school year. We find it very reader-friendly with a level that fits our population.”
Now engaged in enrollment for next school year, Nichole is frequently answering questions around what distinguishes Bangor North from similar schools.
“We offer a high-quality preschool experience. It’s not day care. It’s not just your typical traditional preschool program. We prepare our students socially and emotionally to be academically ready for kindergarten. We have certified teachers and go above and beyond the standard ratio of teachers to students. We are rated very highly in our local ratings for things like that,” said Nichole.
As Nichole prepares her school to face the challenges of a new school year, Early Years will continue to be one of the tools she and her staff use to maintain the high standards she has set for Bangor North. From her thoughtful analysis of the newsletter’s use to her passion for the community and its youngest citizens, Nichole Keister is an example of noteworthy educators involved in preparing America’s children to succeed.
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Bangor North Preschool, Bay City, MI