LAUNCH Flagstaff has released its first baseline report on education in Flagstaff. The organization focused on two of its five goals in the report: kindergarten readiness and post-secondary education and training.
The organization plans to take the data back to its volunteer partners to determine the best possible solutions to meet the education needs of all of Flagstaff’s children, said Paul Kulpinski, LAUNCH’S partnership director.
LAUNCH used information gathered from Arizona First Things First, Flagstaff Unified School District, the 2013 Coconino County Education Report, the 2017 Coconino County Community Needs Assessment and the 2017 Regional Health Equity Assessment.
In the kindergarten readiness area, LAUNCH found that 47 percent of 5-year-olds in 2013 in Flagstaff were ready for kindergarten. Boys were less prepared for kindergarten than girls and students from low-income families were less ready than those from families with higher incomes.
LAUNCH also looked at a cohort of about 107 third-graders who participated in KinderCamp in 2013, got a Kindergarten Development Assessment when they entered kindergarten at FUSD and took the third-grade English Language Arts section of AzMERIT last spring.
From this cohort, LAUNCH found that students who had strong reading skills when they entered kindergarten had a higher score on the AzMERIT English Language Arts section in third grade. They also found a relationship between a child’s preschool experience, their family’s income status and their parents’ education level and their score on AzMERIT.
LAUNCH also surveyed about 116 families with preschool age children in September and found that most parents (53 percent) chose their child’s preschool based on financial reasons. The next highest factor (23 percent) was educational enrichment activities.
Those same parents rated affordable quality preschool (at 34 percent) as the greatest item that would help them prepare their child for kindergarten.
Kulpinksi said one of the items LAUNCH wants to focus on in the near future with its members is to increase the quality of preschools and their number in the Flagstaff area. According to information from First Things First, approximately 77 percent of children up to age 4 are not enrolled in a preschool or are enrolled in preschool of unknown quality. The organization also wants to make sure that all Flagstaff parents have an equal opportunity to enroll their child in a quality preschool. The organization is still working on its definition of “quality preschool education.”
LAUNCH also wants to work with local organizations on listing and creating other early childhood education opportunities for families in Flagstaff who may choose not to put their child in preschool or cannot find a preschool that they can afford. Of particular concern to LAUNCH are those families who may have once qualified for a subsidized Head Start preschool but because of Flagstaff’s new minimum wage level no longer qualify for that program. LAUNCH is also looking at ways of educating and supporting parents on those opportunities and teaching parents how to use everyday experiences to teach their young children.
“Even a trip to the grocery store can be a learning experience for a child,” Kulpinski said.
Because most preschoolers regularly visit their pediatrician, LAUNCH is looking to partner with local pediatricians to reach out to families with tips and information on early childhood education and support services for families with young children.
LAUNCH also looked at what happens to Flagstaff area students after they graduate from high school and how to improve their career readiness. Kulpinski said the organization found that about 61 percent of Flagstaff area high school students went on to college, a trade school or into the military, and 70 percent of Flagstaff students who completed a Career and Technical Education program did so.
LAUNCH also found that students who filled out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and/or took dual enrollment classes in high school at FUSD were more likely to go on to college or trade school.
After filling one out many students realize that they can pay for college or a two-year degree, Kulpinski said. Even students who didn’t think they would qualify for financial aid get a boost from filling out a FAFSA because a number of colleges use the form to determine grants and scholarship eligibility.
Students who completed internships at local businesses or organizations for high school credit were also more likely to go on to college, a trade school or into a career, he said.
In order to help high school grads move on to college or into a rewarding career, LAUNCH would like to hold more communitywide events to help parents and students fill out FAFSA, Kulpinski said. The organization is also working with its education partners to increase the number of dual enrollment and Career and Technical Education courses available. It’s also working with the Coconino County Career Center and its business partners to create more internship opportunities for high schoolers.
The remaining education areas that LAUNCH is looking to study are third grade reading, eighth grade math and high school graduation rates, he said. The organization hopes that by improving preschool skills in students, scores in third and eighth grade reading and math will improve. And by showing students that there are options for them after high school, high school graduation rates will improve.
LAUNCH was created after former Coconino County Superintendent of Schools Robert Kelty got the results of the first Coconino County Education Report in 2013. The study, which was sponsored by the Coconino County Education Service Agency and United Way of Northern Arizona, showed that Flagstaff has a number of good educational programs and organizations but very few of those programs work with each other or talk to each other.
In 2016, the organization created five goals for education in Flagstaff. Its purpose isn’t to create a new education system or lobby politically for education improvements but to gather local stakeholders together to discuss improving education in the area.
More information on LAUNCH and ways to volunteer are at www.launchflagstaff.org.
Ed. Note: This story has been changed from its original.