The recent news that over 1,200 children were suspended from kindergarten and first grade from CT schools last year was appalling. Worse is that number increased nearly 20 percent from two years ago.
We at The Village know that the problem begins before kindergarten. Nearly 70 percent of the children – three and four-year olds – who attend The Village Early Learning Center have been expelled from previous preschool programs, sometimes three or more times. These children struggle with managing their emotions and wrestle with impulsivity. Many of them have developmental delays and/or mental health challenges. Without a timely intervention, these 3 and 4 year olds will be the children being suspended in kindergarten and first grade, and later on chronically truant.
Fortunately, we also know what works. At The Village, suspension and expulsion are not an option. Our highly trained, empathic and skilled teaching staff work with a team (mental health clinician, developmental specialist and case manager) to support our children’s social and emotional success. As a result, 100 percent of the children in our preschool graduate to kindergarten.
Our staff’s understanding of why children act out is key to an appropriate and effective response. Research shows that repeated exposure to negative and traumatic experiences – poverty, homelessness, abuse, neglect, untreated maternal depression, substance abuse and violence in the home – causes chemical changes in a child’s developing brain. This “toxic stress” increases the likelihood of developmental delays, learning disabilities, and behavior problems such as aggression in school.
In urban centers (like Hartford), with a high percentage of children facing multiple adverse experiences, the rate of developmental delays in kindergartners is up to 32 percent.
But why isn’t suspension an effective form of discipline? Simply, suspension from school is counter-productive and leads to poor outcomes for kids. It does not address the reason why a child misbehaved, and it keeps them from the place they most need to be − in school, learning.
A bill being considered in the CT legislature would ban out-of-school suspensions for children under age 8 in a public school, except under certain circumstances. That’s a good first step.
But we need to also address the problems before children reach kindergarten. They should be assessed for developmental delays and social and emotional issues early on. They should receive the support they need in preschool to manage their emptions and control their behavior by trained, skilled staff who have access to the resources they need.
Success in the early grades paves the way for long-term academic success. Conversely, when children fail early in life, it puts them at an extraordinary disadvantage – for their entire life. They just can’t catch up, without significant – and costly – help.
Are we willing to let another year go by – and read yet again about more children being suspended from kindergarten and first grade?
This time, we need more than talk and outrage. We need action.