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Buffalo State Experts: Preparing for Kindergarten

Buffalo State Experts: Preparing for Kindergarten

Posted: April 4, 2016

If you’re the parent of a toddler, you’re probably familiar with UPK. The initials stand for universal pre-kindergarten, an initiative to support high-quality programs to prepare children for kindergarten. Buffalo State offers a bachelor’s program in early childhood education, one of the few teacher-education programs that prepares those who want to work with children aged birth to grade 2 for certification.

Kathleen Dust (at left), lecturer in Elementary Education and Reading, is an active member of the early childhood education team. In addition to her own experience as an elementary school teacher, she is a long-time leader in early childhood education. She is vice president of education and staff development at Edukids, where she has been a valued team member since 1989. The New York State Association for the Education of Young Children named her as a 2016 Champion for Children Award winner. The award will be presented at its annual conference in April.

“We are very pleased and very fortunate to have Kate as part of our early education team,” said Wendy Paterson, dean of the School of Education. “She brings a wealth of experience that benefits teachers of young children, families, and as always, the children themselves.”

Academic basics like counting, adding, and even vocabulary words are increasingly expected of children attending kindergarten, Dust said. “Academic work in the primary grades has been pushed down,” she said. “What used to be second-grade work now takes place in first grade, and first-grade work now takes place in kindergarten. That’s why it’s so important that UPK programs provide high-quality programming for children, not just caregiving services.”

As the UPK initiative spreads to more school districts including the Buffalo Public Schools, the demand for certified B–2 teachers is growing. “Right now, there is a shortage of certified B–2 teachers,” Dust said. “Developing a curriculum for these very young students is different from developing one for older students. Young children learn through play, and it’s important to know how to use play to develop an individual program for each child.”

A UPK program should prepare children for kindergarten both not just academically but also socially. “Children who attend a good UPK program enter kindergarten knowing more than shapes and colors,” she said. “They also know the basics of classroom behavior, like how to stand in line and how to wait when they are part of a group.”

A seasoned speaker at state and national conferences, Dust recently shared her expertise as one of 10 experts on early-child education from across New York State. The panel, presented by the School of Education at Buffalo State, focused on the critical issues and challenges of early childhood education. The program also introduced one of Buffalo State’s accelerated 4+1 pathways from undergraduate to graduate degree programs in five years, at which time candidates will be eligible for both early childhood and exceptional education certification for early childhood.

“Preparing a child for kindergarten helps that child succeed in school,” said Dust. “Making the most of a toddler’s extraordinary ability to learn is critical.”

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