Perseverance Learned in PreK Serves Students Through Schooling & Beyond

By Douglas Price

As a current middle grades educator, I sit in a minority within my field, as I have previously been an elementary grades educator serving in three different grade levels. Prior to my elementary teaching experience, I served for almost two years as a lead classroom teacher in a PreK program. I earned one of two Bachelor’s degrees in Early Childhood Education. And now…? Additionally, I now have an almost three-year-old daughter entering her first year of PreK experience.

All of this to say, I have witnessed and experienced the continuum of the effects that PreK (or a lack thereof) can have on a student. I want all of my students to be successful, and am passionate in partnering with them to find their own voice and master the content that is brought to them in the classroom. My passion stems from wanting to see young children equipped with the tools necessary for engaging in their own education, and eventually college and workforce development.

Most educators tend to emphasize the benefits of students attending PreK by looking at the achievement and reading gaps that have been thoroughly documented within the past five years. Yes, students who do not attend a quality PreK program are more likely to fall into these gaps later on in their K12 school careers, with the gap compounding over time as academics become more rigorous. However, instead of looking for the academic achievements to provide insight on the effects of PreK, I tend to focus on students’ social-emotional well-being to contribute as data — like Jesse, a student who came from a traumatic home and struggled with school — can show how students can find their own perseverance.

As time marches forward, technologies advance, and knowledge becomes more readily accessible, classroom content and standards will continue to become more rigorous over time. We have witnessed this with the installation of the Common Core in Math and English Language Arts classrooms. So what does all of this rigor have to do with PreK in connection with middle grades education?

Turns out a lot, actually. As PreK can be utilized as a launch pad to immerse and introduce language-rich environments that help to develop student minds to prepare for reading, attempting the best shot at avoiding that “30 million word gap,” so too, can early schooling be a catalyst for preparing students in the perseverance needed to handle the rigor of problem-based learning (PBL) and college-career readiness that will come their way as they graduate each year to the next level. Research has proven that “once children are past learning the ‘basics’ in the early grades, the relative importance of early attention and socio-emotional skills increase as children are increasingly called upon to be independent learners, allocate their own time, and complete group work and assignments.”

As an experienced teacher of both elementary and middle grades, the most common issue students struggle with today is perseverance. The base definition for perseverance is penned as “steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success”; in the realm of education, this is viewed thru the marriage of social-emotional stamina as students learn to work up to their capacity for learning.

A K-8 student’s ability to persevere is imperative to the training this young person needs to become successful in high school, throughout college, and ultimately in entering the workforce. Research indicates that self-regulation (emotionally, academically, socially, cognitively) relates to one’s ability for school adjustment and rigor that is offered in the K-12 career. But prerequisites to this building of character, most of which date back to early childhood development, are not accessible to all students before the elementary and middle grades.

Students like Jesse most likely have a negative perception of themselves and the world. These types of experiences can establish a permanent fixture of failure and self-doubting that they will carry with themselves from home life into the classroom, which will only grow with time, thus, widening the gap of self-determination. Providing access to a PreK program could be a beacon of light in this child’s development of perseverance, helping them to recognize their full(er) potential.

Douglas Price is a 6th Grade Core Connections teacher at Voyager Academy in Durham, NC. A 2016–2018 North Carolina Teacher Voice Fellow, he now serves on the Hope Street Group Teacher Advisory Council. Follow him via Twitter at @DC_Price.