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Follow Through
A Bridge to the Future


Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (SDEL)
Betty J. Mace-Matluck, Project Director


Table of Contents


by Robert L. Egbert, Marijane E. England & Rosalind Alexander-Kasparik






Dear Colleague:

For some 25 years now, Follow Through has provided first-class models that show how to best serve low-income children during their first years in school. Building on preschool services provided to the children through Head Start and similar programs, Follow Through has moved the children successfully through the third grade.

Many of the Follow Through models are well known and used widely throughout the country. However, I believe that with the adoption of the national goals for education, and the role that Follow Through can play in achieving them, this sourcebook will introduce the models to those who are unaware of them. It will also serve as a helpful reminder of Follow Through's promise for those who have already heard of the program and its approaches.

In describing these models of early childhood education, the authors of Follow Through: A Bridge to the Future have done two things. First, they have provided valuable descriptive data about each of the approaches, as all sourcebooks should. But, in addition, they have included anecdotal and vignette material that conveys the flavor of each model. This will allow educators to see beyond the abstract and envision how each model will fit in a particular school. Education, after all, is not simply a day-long, mechanical process—it is an ongoing human one. This book portrays Follow Through in that light.

I am pleased with this work, and I congratulate those who contributed to it. I also heartily congratulate the many dedicated persons who have developed these models and put them into practice everyday in schools throughout the nation. I am certain you will find this book to be informative, useful, and interesting.


Mary Jean LeTendre
Compensatory Education programs


When a handful of the nation's most experienced and committed early childhood educators gathered at Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (SEDL) during the last week of July, 1990 in Austin, Texas, they hoped to plan more than just another "to-be-shelved" academic treatise. Buoyed and agitated by national education goals that emphasized school preparedness, they saw this meeting and the task of preparing a book directly from National Follow Through's sources as a long awaited opportunity. As administrators of Follow Through programs scattered nationwide, the educators could boast a steady trickle of grass-roots successes in diverse communities. Throughout National Follow Through's quarter-century of existence, these Follow Through project sponsors had witnessed some of their innovations—like teacher assistants in the classroom—become widely accepted school standards. But too many of their strategies for educating children in poverty had been ignored or discarded—only to be rediscovered and promoted to cutting-edge esteem a decade later.

Some of the Follow Through sponsors who came to Austin to outline the sourcebook were 20-year veterans; others had less than three years in the program to their credit. But all held a common belief: Follow Through has consistently provided a reliable bridge to success for many youngsters who might have otherwise fallen prey to poverty, bigotry, and a myriad of ever-present social ills. Yet this same human bridge of hope remains one of the country's best kept educational secrets.

The planners felt it imperative to get the word out. Follow Through can offer research-based, practice-proven ways to counter the educational disadvantage that constantly threatens to overtake America's future. And, since Follow Through has transformed itself from a multifaceted experimental set of blueprints for early childhood education to a bridge strong and expansive enough for all children to cross over, 1992 seems the perfect target year to spread the Program's wealth of accumulated wisdom.

With moods mirrored by the summer heat outside, the planning group envisioned a short, highly readable volume that drew on Follow Through's 25-year effort to fashion a footbridge to the future of early childhood education. The planners wanted the sourcebook to detail Follow Through's significance to Head Start, Even Start, the early childhood education community, Chapter 1 and migrant, and bilingual education. But the spirit of the Follow Through story, they decided, should be as hopeful and positive as the innumerable success stories each of them could readily recall. The invitation to cross over, they cautioned, had to reflect the trust of communities of families who count on Follow Through to make life better for their children.

The book must be a proud offering with respect for the humanity of Follow Through children, parents, educators, and policymakers. But most of all, the sourcebook had to reflect the value and potential of every child. In short, the planners saw this book as a way to make Follow Through the tangible, viable source for early childhood education norms in the years to come. As one educator in the group summarized the hopes of those gathered: "Anyone who picks up this book should want to run with it, rather than put it down. They'll see that here are programs that are successful with young children—very poor young children—and that these are strategies they can pick up and use."

Charting the way

Charged with finding and documenting the essence of the various Follow Through philosophies, approaches, and systematic delivery systems that continue to mean the difference between fulfilled lives and those that are cut short, two SEDL staff members traveled to a school site from each Follow Through model's roster. We interviewed the model sponsors—who in many cases were the model creators—and asked them to think of Follow Through as a canvas that had been painted over the years, complete with experiments, restarts, corrections, and layers of fresh, bright ideas. We talked at length with administrators, teachers, and parents on-site who were all genuinely eager to share their recipes for success. If we began with trepidation at the broad and daunting task of chronicling some 25 years of committed struggle, we returned home sure of the hope and caring that marked every person in every Follow Through school we visited. Hugs became the sign of peaceable passage, and we were hugged by hundreds.

One reason for our good fortune was of course the path along which we were guided. It proved to be the route to both source and solution that we realized the planners had intended for us to chart. It was the bridge blueprint from which they hoped we would hang the stuff of the book. Since half the challenge involves gaining entry into communities and winning their commitment to give the program a chance, we should not have been surprised to find long-standing exemplary practices that have been tried and honed, have worked, but have too slowly seeped into schools outside Follow Through programs. We marveled at room arrangements that made reality of the most promising classroom management philosophies; home-school-community connections advocated by the most noted and eloquent educational theoreticians that had been in place for two decades or more; and a long, steady roll of students who had grown out of the ghetto and into careers as pragmatic engineers, socially conscious scientists, politically active artists, responsible journalists, and encouraging educators. They were remembered by teachers and parents in every Follow Through site as ordinary students from typical families living in working poor communities who had made it, had crossed over, despite the odds against them.

As we charted the way to the bridge and beyond, we also recognized the school leaders who continue to take chances, to grow, and to invest their considerable strength as education professionals in helping the children cross over on Follow Through's promise. We saw school administrators who had begun their education careers as the parents of Follow Through students, who had been shored up by Follow Through's emphasis on parent involvement, who had earned advanced academic degrees—one course at a time—and now understood the importance and potency of their power as educators and change agents in the schools. We watched them look with determination beyond the blighted streets outside the school windows at whole children who trudged happily to school. We saw children so engaged in the process of learning that they barely realized we were present as witnesses. We saw teachers and administrators—parents and community activists all—taking their roles as student advocates seriously. We saw the bridge that is Follow Through maintained as a shared joy and a shared challenge that earned the support of everyone who approached it with a tenacious belief in tomorrow. And we realized the importance of sharing their silvery wisdom—their insights to the future—with everyone we could ask, entice, or coerce into reading all about it.

Without exception the bridge exists. It's being built, added to, and maintained every day in every Follow Through school. The next step is to take the proven practices beyond the fewer than 100 funded sites and into each of America's kindergarten through third grade classes—and through high school. Educators who are committed to the school success of young children should learn by heart the way that this sourcebook charts.

A graduate student just beginning her career as a teacher may have summarized Follow Through's legacy best when she probed each face around a table of caring classroom professionals and articulated the truth she observed there. "It's difficult for anyone to say exactly what the future of Follow Through will be; but is there a future without Follow Through?" As the group silently processed her words, the answer crossing their faces was clearly unanimous. That answer is the source of every page that follows in this book.

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