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Kindergarten Readiness Program Expands Thanks to Nordson Corporation Foundation

This fall, 750 incoming kindergarten students from Lorain County, Ohio, will begin the school year prepared and eager to learn thanks to their KinderKits—and a generous donation from the Nordson Corporation Foundation.

The idea for KinderKits—kindergarten readiness kits that provide families with a clear understanding of what their children should know at the start of kindergarten—began in 2015 when Benjamin Colas, a then first-year kindergarten teacher at Alfred Benesch Elementary School in Cleveland, Ohio, spent more than three months catching his kindergarten students up to where they should have been at the start of the school year.

After pitching his idea during Accelerate, a Cleveland Leadership Center competition that awards money and recognition to help kick-start Northeast Ohio improvement projects, Benjamin received the $5,000 grand prize. This funding allowed him to distribute 750 kits to Cleveland Metropolitan School District kindergarteners in 2016.

This year, the Nordson Corporation Foundation provided enough funding to supply KinderKits to 750 families in Northeast Ohio, a donation that Benjamin says made this resource entirely risk-free for the schools.

“The Nordson Corporation Foundation’s support has been huge,” Benjamin said. “They helped validate the market for KinderKits and increase their credibility, which is allowing us to scale and reach more families.”

In many schools—particularly low-income schools—students enter kindergarten without knowing skills like counting and recognizing colors, and these setbacks can hinder children’s education for the duration of their time in school. In 2015, one out of 26 kindergarteners in Benjamin’s classroom were able to recognize letters at the beginning of the school year; many had never held a pencil before.

“Saying to a parent, ‘Your child needs to know letters,’ doesn’t really help them know how to teach this,” Benjamin said, acknowledging many parents’ willingness to help their kindergarteners learn. “There was a gap in them not knowing what their kids needed to know entering school, and I felt that KinderKits was a way to address this challenge.”

Each KinderKit consists of a drawstring backpack filled with M&Ms, Froot Loops, shaving cream, rice, Play-Doh and dry erase markers—items that show parents how they can use everyday objects to teach letters, shapes, sorting and counting. As his project received more recognition, Benjamin began enlisting the help of his friends and family to help assemble and distribute the kits.

“Trying to get friends and family to put a ton of kits together and finding the space to do this was a challenge,” Benjamin, now in his third year at Alfred Benesch Elementary, said. “It made sense to have someone else handle this side of things, and my hope was to have the kits assembled by people with developmental disabilities so KinderKits could have a greater social impact.”

Benjamin began delegating this responsibility to residents of the Metzenbaum Center in Chesterland, Ohio, an organization that provides services to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. This collaboration provided meaningful employment and income for the residents while helping Benjamin distribute KinderKits to more than 5,000 Ohio families in 2017. Over the coming years, Benjamin hopes to establish a more formal partnership with the Metzenbaum Center, and eventually, he hopes to expand KinderKits’ reach to a national level.

 “We’ve already begun planning for 2018,” Benjamin said, noting that the kits will become even more effective and user-friendly—anyone with a second grade reading level or higher will be able to teach the targeted skills. “There’s still a long way to go to ensure that all children start school on-track, and it has been an incredible opportunity to be able to work towards that outcome.”

If you know of any schools or cities that could benefit from KinderKits or know of a child entering kindergarten who would like a kit, email Benjamin at bmcolas@gmail.com