Creating ‘Llama Drama’ for Georgia Pre-K Week

In pre-kindergarten classes across the district this week, our youngest students reveled in the story of a totally turned up Baby Llama in red pajamas, waiting for his mama, coping with bedtime drama.

As part of Georgia Pre-K Week, a celebration of the lottery-funded Georgia Pre-K program, school officials, board members, parents, caregivers and community and business leaders came out in force to read to classes across the district. The state book this year is Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney, which offers multiple opportunities for funny faces and sounds.

My opportunity came at Perkerson Elementary School with Claire Dent’s class, who welcomed me with an enormous banner and a room full of enthusiasm. Her students loved the book and cheered, snored and even yelled (sorry, Principal Ford!) at all the right moments!

In its ninth year, Georgia Pre-K Week is a statewide effort held during the first week of every October to raise awareness of the benefits of quality Pre-K programs. The community is encouraged to visit and read to Pre-K students so they can experience first-hand the quality learning that takes place there. We want them to get their own validation about the numerous extensive studies that show that quality pre-kindergarten programs result in greater school success and an improved workforce.

Presently, the state reports that more than 80,000 children in Georgia are enrolled in pre-K programs. Since 2014, APS has increased Pre-K seats from 986 to 1336 across all schools, including traditional, partner and charter.

We’ve been focused on enhancing the quality of our early learning, as well as strengthing alignment and connection between the early grades. In addition, we’re building strong relationships with our early learning partners. We’ve had the opportunity to engage in innovative partnerships like the Whitefoord Early Learning Academy with Whitefoord Inc., and the Barack and Michelle Obama Academy and Dunbar Elementary School with Sheltering Arms, where we’re exploring new and creative ways of partnering to ensure that more children 0-3 are served across Atlanta.

We are especially focused on literacy as it serves as the primary tool that moves people out of poverty into careers which will enable them to be self-sufficient members of society. Literacy is not just a personal benefit; it’s an essential skill that everyone in our community regardless of age, race, gender, or background must have in order to coexist as effective citizens in the world.

Too often, these students cannot catch up, due to lack of engagement, challenging psycho-social hardships, and other factors. They end up struggling through elementary, middle and high school, never attaining the skills they need to get to and through college or a sustainable career.

Part of our strategic plan for Atlanta Public Schools involves closing the equity gap among our schools and students. Not surprisingly, the first step to decrease this gap begins with making sure that our children are able to read and write the words which will enable them to achieve greatness and have a shot at rewarding options after they leave us.

We’re encouraged by the work of the PAACT – the new Promise All Atlanta Children Thrive initiative – led by GEEARS: the Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students – that is intended to serve as a guiding and galvanizing tool to enhance and align early learning in Atlanta.

This Early Education Leadership Council, on which I participated, delved into the challenges faced by Atlanta’s children and families, learned about the about existing effective solutions, and developed a set of recommendations. We developed a vision to transform the city of Atlanta with this PAACT.

While our children don’t to have to act like Baby Llamas and should turn down the drama at bedtime, we adults must really turn it up for early education and literacy!

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