Children react during a lesson as part of the PNC Grow Up Great Fellows.
Children react during a lesson as part of the PNC Grow Up Great Fellows.

Can drama and storytelling help preschoolers be better prepared for kindergarten?

Yes, they can. That’s the conclusion drawn by faculty researchers in the University of Louisville’s College of Education and Human Development after launching the PNC Grow Up Great Fellows, a program that trains future teachers to engage youngsters by borrowing from the world of theater.

To date, nearly 400 youngsters have taken part in the innovative program, which kicked off as a pilot program last fall.

Funded by a $247,186 grant from PNC Foundation, the initiative brings together UofL, StageOne Family Theatre and Jefferson County Public Schools.

About 10 fellows—all of them UofL early childhood/elementary education majors—are selected each fall semester to help at-risk, pre-kindergarten students at JCPS’s DuValle Education Center and Unseld Elementary.

Jill Jacobi-Vessels, an assistant professor of early childhood education who has oversight for the fellows, said the UofL students work closely with StageOne Family Theatre to hone their own performance skills and to learn how to engage children in the learning process. Preschoolers who participate in the program are able to quickly step into roles that require them to use math, literacy and social skills to solve problems, she said.

UofL President James Ramsey said the program underscores the power of community partnerships in education.

“Education is a continuous, lifelong process that works best when schools, businesses and nonprofit organizations all work together,” Ramsey said. “That’s why our PNC Grow Up Great Fellows is a perfect example of how collaboration can transform our city and our future.”

“Early access to learning is the cornerstone of a young child’s development,” said Chuck Denny, PNC regional president for Greater Louisville and Tennessee. “By engaging families, educators and community partners, particularly for underserved children, we can build on the early childhood progress that PNC Grow Up Great has supported here over the past 11 years.”

JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens said, “This partnership aligns talents and resources to offer an exciting program for prekindergarten students. When great organizations step up and focus their efforts to improve learning opportunities for students, students win. We’re grateful for this work that boosts kindergarten readiness and prepares students for a lifelong love of learning.”

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Cindy Hess
Communications Director Cindy Hess has oversight for day-to-day operations in media relations and covers prestigious scholars, the College of Education and Human Development and Brandeis School of Law. She reports to the Media Relations Director, has a heckuva good resume, and faithfully eats kale for lunch every day. Cindy has more than 25 years of experience in media relations, investor relations, marketing and corporate communications and is the unit’s only employee entrusted to buy tickets for lottery pools.