Valley Oaks Elementary School’s Ana Medrano spoke to thousands in Houston on the importance of full-day prekindergarten when her own views were featured in a Houston Chronicle Outlook opinion section newspaper article on Sunday, Sept. 14.
Medrano is an instructional coach, or iCoach, at Valley Oaks Elementary. A Spring Branch ISD graduate, she worked as a PreK teaching assistant at Lion Lane School for Early Learning for many years while earning her bachelor’s degree.
“It was exciting,” she says of the newspaper article. “At the same time, I felt very honored to be chosen to write about the topic. I am passionate about literacy and early learning so it wasn’t difficult for me to express my concern. It’s easy to write about what you love.”
Medrano, who has now worked 11 years in Spring Branch ISD, is a 2002 graduate of Northbrook High. She attended Hollibrook Elementary and Northbrook Middle schools.
In 2007, she earned her bachelor’s degree through the University of Houston while working as a teacher assistant at the Lion Lane PreK. She hopes to now graduate in May 2015 from the University of St. Thomas with a master’s degree in educational leadership.
Medrano has been a Valley Oaks iCoach for two years. She was a PreK bilingual teacher for four years at Lion Lane.
She is the proud parent of two young children, Mariana and Xavier.
Listening to Ana Medrano
Growing Up: She was labeled at-risk growing up in Spring Branch. “We lived in a two-bedroom apartment that we shared with an uncle. We all felt a necessity to overcome our disadvantages and the English language barrier as children. This is one of the reasons I’m so passionate about education and early learning. I want all our students to know that they can succeed as well.”
Parent Power: “We lived at a poverty level, but our parents were motivators. They believed that everything was possible for all of us. They motivated and they pushed me to get to a place where I am today.”
Learning Gap: Medrano feels that most struggling students in SBISD are from low income and minority background families. “Too often, our struggling students have minimal exposure to a quality, literacy-rich, early childhood setting beginning from birth to 5 years old. The gap between low income and other families really starts at the beginning, in the early years, and it just keeps widening from there.”
Queen for a Day: “I think I would exchange having a 12th grade year in high school for a required high quality, literacy rich, full day education for all young children if I was queen.”
Best Book Bets: For prekindergarten ages, Medrano recommends former Sesame Street writer Mo Willems and his “pigeon” series of books like Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! “They are very interactive. There are speech bubbles that children do like, and you can reference test using them at a student’s level.” She is also a fan of Eric Carle picture-and-word books. “I feel that his books can be linked to different lessons, and I grew up with these books, too. The Very Hungry Caterpillar is still a favorite in our house.”
Future Dreaming: Medrano’s interests range from starting up her own school to becoming a district principal, or opening an early-education school designed with at-risk children in mind. If her past predicts the future, this SBISD educator will be managing her own school – one way or another.
Newspaper subscribers can read Medrano’s opinion article at this location, or see posting below:http://www.chron.com/default/article/Medrano-Reading-readiness-gap-in-pre-K-needs-5756634.php
Medrano: Reading readiness gap in pre-K needs urgent attention
By Ana Medrano | September 15, 2014 Houston Chronicle Opinion/Outlook section
My heart filled with pride as my oldest daughter's pre-K teacher reported that she was already reading at the first grade level. She might even be "too advanced" for kindergarten, the teacher said, recommending I consider enrolling her in the first grade. Although it was a huge compliment and brought tears of joy to my eyes, as an educator, I knew that my daughter's academic success was due, in part, to my own awareness of the importance of a quality early childhood education. My daughter is 6 years old now and maintains a deep love for learning. She wakes up every day with a priceless excitement for going to school.
How I wish this was the norm throughout our community.
I have been in education for 12 years now and have had the opportunity to teach students from different backgrounds and observe how students progress through the elementary school years. The differences are stark between students who have had access to quality early childhood education and those who have not, and are pretty good predictors of how well the children will fare in their later school years.
I began teaching full-day pre-K in an at-risk community where many students came from large, low-income families, often with parents lacking basic literacy skills. Many of the children had never held nor even seen a book, crayon or paintbrush in their lives. There were children who started school not speaking a word and others with serious behavior and emotional problems. Not only were they behind academically, but some children also carried the baggage of a dysfunctional, and sometimes abusive, home life. Nevertheless, my colleagues and I would help them keep their heads held high and make sure we had a positive impact on their lives through their education. As a former at-risk student myself, I understood that a successful school experience would be their only hope of breaking the cycle in which they were trapped.
Later, when I taught pre-K at a more affluent school, I could immediately see the difference in the readiness level when my students started the year. It was obvious that a majority of these children had been exposed to the basic building blocks, including letters and numbers, either from their families or through more formal early education programs. As an educator, I didn't have to start at the very beginning and teach them how to be ready to learn.
Importantly though, regardless of where I taught or my students' socioeconomic status, 90 percent or more would leave their pre-K year as emergent readers and writers. Spending a year in a quality pre-K program allows kids from all backgrounds to start kindergarten on the same playing field.
I am now an instructional coach for an elementary school campus. The vantage point allows me to see the range of abilities, but especially the range of readiness between those with adequate early childhood education and those without. That gap can be heartbreaking and incredibly challenging to surmount. While the rest of their kindergarten classmates are engaged in guided reading instruction, children who have not been exposed to reading at home or through a high-quality early-education program are just learning their letters and how to write their names. This struggle continues at home, where parents who may be working multiple jobs, or have limited literacy skills themselves, are not able to provide the support that the children need.
From the moment they enter school and realize they cannot read like their friends, they begin to lose their confidence. Although our teachers are trained to differentiate instruction, it is oftentimes too difficult a task to make up for a whole year of absent instruction. It is not until children fail to pass their third-grade STAAR test that we, as a system, begin to intervene. By that time, it is often too late and the money spent on tutoring and intervention is less effective.
Like many things, fixing this is no easy task. Quality professional development, support for special-needs students and lower teacher-to-student ratios are musts. Most important, we need to provide support for the parents of these young children who want what is best for their children, but don't know what to do. Parental involvement in the education of their children is paramount to our success. My experience as an at-risk student, and now as an educator and mother, tells me that, as a community, we cannot stand idly by. The readiness gap needs our urgent attention. This is a resource-rich city. Properly galvanized, we can address this problem together. Access to a quality early childhood education is the bridge to academic success and life readiness. Wouldn't it be amazing if every parent was told their child was too advanced?
Medrano is an interdisciplinary instructional coach at Valley Oaks Elementary in Spring Branch ISD.