Preventing the Achievement Gap

Magna Grand Prize Winner - Under 5,000

Fremont County School District No. 6, Pavilion, Wyoming

Grand Prize Winner: Under 5,000 Enrollment

Fremont County School District in western Wyoming is 2,481 square miles, or roughly the size of the state of Delaware. The Wind River Indian Reservation with Shoshone and Arapaho tribes takes up 61 percent of the district. One quarter of the students in the district are Native Americans.

In this far-flung, high-poverty region, there are no licensed day care programs, preschools, or medical service providers.

To help address the costly social and academic gaps in children showing up for kindergarten with low vocabularies and little to no exposure to books, the district started a preschool at Wind River Elementary School in 2002. “It was going well,” says Fremont Superintendent Diana Clapp, “but it was not reaching the families that we needed.”

Transportation was a major barrier to attendance. Because district funds could not be used for preschool buses, families had to drive their children to school -- a hardship for some families in this isolated region who lived 20 to 40 miles from school.

If the families couldn’t come to preschool, then the preschool would come to them. Fremont’s mobile preschool program earned the district a 2016 Magna Award Grand Prize in the under 5,000 enrollment category.

The idea to bring preschool to isolated families stemmed from a suggestion to use a book mobile model. The district overhauled an old school bus, painted it purple, removed the seats, and installed carpeting, furniture, and supplies, says Wind River Principal Barney Lacock.

School staff made phone calls and bus drivers on rural routes suggested families with young children. The program started as a pilot in the spring of 2013 with a driver and teacher going to children’s homes. The 30-minute session takes place on the bus, with or without the child’s parent or caretaker. “We immediately began to find students who were well behind developmentally,” says Lacock. “We got them in touch with other school services.”

The teacher discusses ways that parents can help with literacy and language skills, as well as how to recognize if their child is meeting developmental benchmarks. “The goal is to educate the student and the parent,” says school board member Kristen Benson. “Education is not limited to students.”

In fact, the mobile preschool addresses another barrier to participation: trust. Many people in the region did not have positive school experiences as children. Native Americans, in particular, are wary of the public schools, with the history of forced boarding schools weighing heavily on them. “We can’t ignore that historical trauma,” says Clapp. “They follow and look to their past. We have to honor that with our students and families.” These families might find it difficult to bring their vulnerable young children to a public preschool program.

Part of the preschool bus’s mission is to create a bond between the district and the families. “Thirty minutes twice a week is not adequate for preschool literacy for children. But it’s invaluable for building relationships,” says Clapp. The hope is that these positive relationships last throughout the child’s K-12 years.

The district recently received a grant to start providing immunization and other medical services -- another desperate need in the community. The preschool bus will be part of the campaign to get the information out to parents.

Results for the past three years show that the percentage of students reaching age-appropriate benchmarks has increased overall by 12 percent, with 85 percent of students entering kindergarten at or above kindergarten readiness benchmarks.

The Fremont School Board set a vision that says the district “will be known for academic excellence and preparing students to lead in the 21st century.” The policy governance of the board is important, says Clapp, adding that board members are supportive of the administration to meet the goals of the district’s strategic plan. “Board members are serious about reaching the goals but realistic about the challenges. Those are big conversations for the board,” she says.


Kristen Benson
School Board member

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