Visit to Virginia Elementary School Underscores Commitment to Early Ed

Secretary Duncan walks and talks to a student at Patrick Henry Elementary School in Alexandria, VA. (Paul Wood/U.S. Department of Education)

Secretary Duncan walks and talks to a student at Patrick Henry Elementary School in Alexandria, VA. (Paul Wood/U.S. Department of Education)

Secretary Arne Duncan and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Early Learning Libby Doggett stopped at Patrick Henry Elementary School in Alexandria, VA., Wednesday to talk about the importance of early education with a group of parents, teachers, local administrators and community leaders. The school runs a PreK-5 program and has eight preschool classes.  Teachers at the event didn’t hide their enthusiasm for the benefits that preschool brings to their classroom.

“The majority of my students this year have attended preschool. And I have not had a classroom like this. Ever,” said Lori Shabazz,  Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teaching Award winner in 2014 and kindergarten teacher at the school. “I’ve been teaching kindergarten for 19 years.”

In years past, she had to devote most of her time to remediating students who weren’t ready for kindergarten. Students came to her class unprepared both academically and socially—up to 86% of them failed assessments. But this school year has been different. For the first time ever, she has been able to dedicate most of her class time to a kindergarten appropriate curriculum. And the results have been remarkable.

“Each kindergarten teacher should get this experience. That has a class that’s ready for kindergarten,” she said.

Duncan used the opportunity to not only learn more about how the early learning program has transformed the school culture, but also to talk about the administration’s vision for changing the education landscape in the country through ESEA reauthorization. A critical component of the plan includes expanding early learning opportunities for children nationwide—especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“We as a nation can take the next step… And work together to make sure every child enters kindergarten ready to be successful. And our kindergarten teachers around the nation will tell us when that happens, amazing things happen in classrooms,” he said.

Patrick Kerr is a member of the Communications Development division in the Office of Communications and Outreach