WARREN - A smile breaks across Haylee Bartram's face as she realizes "Mrs. Doris" has arrived.
The 5-year-old knows what to expect from Doris Freeman - a whole new round of lesson plans and supplies designed to help Haylee, who attends preschool at Warren's Willard school, prepare for kindergarten.
"She gets excited to see her," said Loretta Bartram, Haylee's mom. "She knows she'll have books or something with her, fun stuff we can do together."
Preschooler Haylee Bartram, 5, center, receives help from her mom, Loretta Bartram, left, and parent partner Doris Freeman of Community Solutions. Freeman visits the family once a month through the Warren SPARK program to help prepare Haylee for kindergarten. Photo by Virginia Shank
Freeman is a parent partner who visits Haylee's home once a month as part of Warren SPARK program, or Supporting Partnerships to Assure Ready Kids. The early education home-based program helps preschoolers build their reading, language and social skills.
SPARK involves the parent and encourages them to be their child's learning advocate, program supervisor Kathy LaMarco said.
LaMarco works for Community Solutions Association, which manages the local program. She noted the program works to create a seamless transition into kindergarten.
According to Peter Leahy of the University of Akron, Institute of Bioscience and Social Research, Warren is one of the most successful SPARK programs in the state. Leahy, who conducts research on the impact the program has, recently presented his research findings to local Warren community leaders including city and school district officials. He reported he found that SPARK children improved 3.4 points on the KRA-L assessment compared to non-SPARK children in the same schools. KRA-L is the kindergarten Readiness Assessment test for literacy which measures literacy skills.
"An important part of the program is to engage parents, because research shows the more involved parents are in their children's education the better kids do," she said.
Community Solutions recently released its third year Warren SPARK results. Peter Leahy of the University of Akron, Institute of Bioscience and Social Research, presented his research for the local program. He said Warren is one of the most successful SPARK programs in the state.
SPARK Ohio began in Canton and has spread to nine other areas across the state. In 2008, The Raymond John Wean Foundation funded the local program through Community Solutions in partnership with the city school district.
The school district is responsible for the Responsive Services Team of professionals who focus on speech and behavioral issues for any children needing these additional services. There is no cost to any of the 70 families participating in the program. Youngsters living in the neighborhoods of Warren City schools Willard and Jefferson K-8 buildings are eligible.
First Book of Trumbull County supports SPARK by providing a $1,200 grant that resulted in more than 600 books for the families. The Warren Trumbull Public Library maintains SPARK book bag lending kits that include books and activities for preschool children.
"The nice thing about this program is it provides parents with resources and supplies and gives them ideas they can use to help their children learn," remarked Freeman.
As parent partners, Freeman and Natalie Bolino visit the participating families on a regular basis to review materials with them and help them through the process. They also participate in one-on-one interaction with the children in their homes.
The parent partners leave the families with enough learning materials to get them through to the next visit including a new book, activity and art supplies to help promote an ongoing learning environment.
Haylee's older sister, Katelyn, 6, a kindergartner at Willard, also went through SPARK.
"Things are different from when we were in school," Chad Bartram, Haylee's dad, said. "This gives us as parents ideas and ways to work with the kids that really helps them. It gives you the materials and makes it a lot easier.
''You play games to learn and that makes it fun for the kids and keeps them engaged. It's not such a chore. It gives you as the parent a way to connect and really be involved, and that's a good thing for everyone, the parents, the kids, even the school."