Boggabri Public School

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Smart Start wins award

Boggabri Public School wins the New England Region Award for Excellence in Quality Service 2011.

After an analysis of our Best Start results at the beginning of each Kindergarten intake, we decided to offer an early learning centre which would not only offer a quality service to the highest professional standards, but would also give children a happy, caring place where they could find an identity and confidence.

Smart Start was developed to meet these important needs, and early indications are that it has met or exceeded all expectations.

The development of Smart Start was guided by The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia which had just been released by the Federal Government, with the curriculum carefully considered and modelled on early learning centres which had received Federal Government support. Smart Start is innovative with its curriculum, in that it is also aligned with  the NSW Department of School and Communities Best Start Program.

A qualified early childhood teacher was engaged through merit selection, and is supported by a Student Learning Support Officer with a Certificate III in Children's Services (also employed through merit selection).

An old double classroom was set up for Smart Start, with bright and colourful decoration and clear signage. It was decided that students would be known as "Smarties" and artwork was designed to reinforce the bright, fun image of the centre.

Smart Start commenced operations in September 2009 with 12 students. With only a short time to prepare the first Smarties for Kindergarten, teacher Lana Eather concentrated on the basic tasks: teaching the children to write their names and cut with scissors, and just touching on phonics and numbers.

The program continued throughout 2010 and 2011  with support from National Partnership funds allocated to schools with low socio-economic status, and CAP funding for transition programs.

In 2010 the program commenced with the same basic skills development and continued with work on phonics and skills based on the Early Years Learning Framework, using checklists to measure skills development against target outcomes. During the year students learned to toilet independently, adjusted to rules, developed social and speaking skills, fine and gross motor skills and confidence.

While it was intended that the program would support 20 students, demand has been such that at present there are 22 Smarties.

The Boggabri Public School Kindergarten teacher spends one hour per week over 38 weeks with the Smarties, so that they are familiar and comfortable with their teacher when they move on to Kindergarten. This has proven to be a successful strategy, with all Smarties making a smooth ‘no tears' transition into Kindergarten. The children were ready to learn new concepts and have not skipped a beat.

In the Smart Start teacher's words: "Smart Start is a really great program for their confidence at school. They blend in without any problems and are used to the structure. They know where they have to be, what the bell means and they have positive expectations of what school will be."

The benefits of Smart Start are beginning to be reflected in the Best Start results. Some improvement was already evident in 2010 with the 2009 Smarties, but results have continued to improve.

A survey of customer satisfaction with Smart Start, including a questionnaire and focus group, was carried out at the end of 2010, with overwhelming levels of satisfaction being expressed by parents.All respondents indicated they believe Smart Start should be continued. Asked about the quality of Smart Start, 91.7% rated it excellent (8.3% good). Asked about the likelihood that the respondent would recommend the program to others, 75% replied that they would certainly recommend the program, and 25% said it was very likely.

When asked what aspects of the program parents liked the best, comments included:

"Will know about school - knows friendly faces already. Will focus on school work when she comes."

"The classroom atmosphere. It's not only professional but lets the parents and child have confidence in starting school."

"Knowing that my daughter will be ready for school and familiar with the school routine."

"The high standard and commitment of the Smart Start teachers, especially Mrs Eather, has to be commended. My child has gone on in leaps and bounds."

When asked what could be improved, there were only two suggestions, one to produce a Smart Start T-shirt and another to produce a more formal student report.   

Boggabri Public School's 2011 Kindergarten teacher has observed significant improvement in the Smarties progressing to Kindergarten. "Children are much more settled and confident - more willing to have a go. They are a lot more comfortable and know me a lot better - they are more willing to tell me if there are problems, even problems at home which are having an impact on their learning. They have already formed friendship groups, they work well together and in small groups."

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