The STAR Three-to-Third Project
STAR School’s 3-to-3rd Project is a unique and innovative program providing high-quality, culturally relevant early childhood education for our students from Age 3 to Grade 3. Recent research has increasingly pointed out the importance of early learning in a child’s development and the long-range impact of this early learning on future school success. In particular, it is becoming clear that early math learning experiences have a profound influence on not only later math success but also later success in reading. Unfortunately, research tells us, children who are behind early in math tend to stay behind. It is for these reasons that we created our 3-to-3rd program to provide high quality math learning experiences for children from age 3 to grade 3. This model has proven so effective that we have developed this multimedia guide demonstrating the core elements of our program for other schools serving similar communities to reference.
The STAR 3-to-3rd Project began with the recognition that children entering Kindergarten at STAR School already were well behind in their school readiness, especially in mathematics. The STAR Early Learning Center was created to address that problem. STAR chose to adopt and adapt a Montessori approach for our model for its high-quality materials and because it had been demonstrated to be effective with students similar to ours. We adapted the model to incorporate our foundational core value system, which comes from Navajo Peacemaking, with a focus on the 4R’s – Relationship, Respect, Responsibility, and Reasoning. We integrated Navajo language and culture into the program as well as our place-based education focus, connecting us to our place and our community. We also added curriculum elements that research has found valuable in early child development, such as a focus on math, make-believe play materials, and supplementing the curriculum with sign language. The blending of STAR School’s commitment to K’e, the interrelatedness of all people and all nature, and our focus of honoring relationships and other cultural and language values, with the Montessori pedagogical orientation and materials has proven to be the essential element for this program to take root and grow in our community.
Within a few years of the Early Learning Center’s beginning, the Kindergarten was integrated with the preschool, creating a P/K unit called Ałchíní Bighan (Children’s House) that proved even more successful in preparing the children for elementary school. The next year the first and second grade unit integrated many elements of the P/K model into its approach and soon the third grade joined P/K and 1st/2nd in their educational model, with each educator contributing to the STAR 3-to-3rd Project Model.
The 3-to-3rd project has proven itself efficacious, evidenced here from the STAR Early Learning Center Summative Evaluation by Dr. Derek Price. “Data on student achievement from this program for the past seven years indicate that the preschool students who attended full time achieved an average of two years’ growth each school year in math concepts on the Woodcock–Johnson assessment, and .33 SD growth on the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT). It is important to note that the average score for children was one year delayed at the point they entering the program. This is similar to reports of entering levels of achievement for Native children in other regions of the country as well. During one year in the STAR Early Learning program, students were able to develop their skills to their appropriate age level, thus being ready for Kindergarten at the end of preschool, with some being advanced beyond the beginning of Kindergarten. As we have followed the longitudinal effects of the graduates of the preschool program through the primary grades, testing results indicate that those students who went through the high quality preschool program continued to perform better than their non-high quality preschool peers, particularly in Kindergarten.”
This ground-up, evidence-based evolution of STAR’s approach to education for age 3 to grade 3 has been successful for us. Other schools may choose, however, to implement their program changes to varying degrees or in some other sequence. Our hope is that the information contained in the multi-media training manual and workshop will be useful to other schools as they also seek to improve education for indigenous children.