Brightstart program helps spot signs of children reading difficulties early on

VPK program seeks to set kids up for success

ST. ClOUD, Fla. - Five-year-old Lailah Respress loves kindergarten so much, she didn't even want to take a full day off to meet for our interview. 

"I really like reading," said Respress, as her proud mother Latisha James looked on.

James said she made a mistake with her older daughter that she did not want to make with Lailah.

Her older daughter did not attend a voluntary pre-kindergarten program that had a reading preparedness screening program like the one Lailah went to.

Hansel and Gretel VPK in St. Cloud is one of the 33 early child care centers in Osceola County utilizing Nemours Children's Hospital's Brightstart program.

"This program is all about preventing reading failure and we do that by working with children and developing programs for actually preschoolers to try get them ready for reading readiness before they actually have a chance to fail," said Laura Baillet, a communication and speech specialist who has been running the program since it started 7 years ago.

Brightstart is now utilized in all the public child care sites in Osceola County as well as nearly a dozen private centers and has started to make it's way into some private centers in Orange County.

Orange County public schools said they are currently looking at ways to fund the Brightstart program in their VPK centers.

In the program, children are given a simple test that asks them to identify things like letter names and sounds or their own name in print.

"It's a picture pointing response, just about any child can get through it without any difficulty, it takes less than 10 minutes," said Bailet

 It's so simple Brightstart is able to administer the tests in a mobile classroom that they take to health fairs and community events across the region.

Bailet said it is something parents can do at home as well.  Sample screenings are available on the web along with information on how to interpret the screening and how to prepare children for reading at home.

 "And if they're behind in the reading readiness skills then we've developed some really fun innovative tools to help catch them up," said Bailet.

Information from the Florida Department of Education show the Osceola County kindergarteners have scored better on the Florida Kindergarten Readiness Screener, or FLKRS,  over the last several years.

In 2007, the state reported just 36 percent of kids considered to "demonstrate" abilities.  The 2012 report indicated that the percentage considered "demonstrate" has grown to 53 percent.

Respress is one of those kids.  Teachers say when she came to Hansel and Gretyl she was testing right below the readiness line, but by the time she tested for the FLKRS she was considered ahead of the curve.

Nemours Brightstart will be giving free screenings at Wyndham Lakes Elementary located at 14360 Wyndham Lakes Blvd in Orlando on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

More information about upcoming Brightstart events and child care centers that currently utilize the program can be found on their website.

All VPK programs are required to use a state mandated assessment that  is aligned with FLKRS and will give programs an indication of how prepared their students will be entering kindergarten. 

The Florida Department of Education has additional resources about these programs on their website as well.

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