Parents of little tykes starting out in kindergarten this year have likely received a package with an orange T-shirt and spiral booklet.
It's not a novelty gift, but rather, district officials hope, an overture in a long conversation about their child's education, development and successful graduation into the next phase of their life.
"We know that anytime schools, teachers and parents work together as a team, student learning goes way up," said School Board President Sharla Hales. "We wanted to do our part in that team work."
The program, called "Graduation Begins in Kindergarten," may seem like a stretch. But the more research shows learning habits are formed in early childhood, the more educators want to prepare children for the long haul.
"We are very excited to have your child join us for this very important journey," Superintendent Lisa Noonan says in an introductory letter to parents. "Your eager and enthusiastic five-year-old is actually a member of the graduating class of 2025. Before you know it, you'll be proudly cheering in an audience of parents who are watching their children cross the stage to receive their high school diplomas."
Essentially, the program takes the prospect of graduation and reverse-engineers a comprehensive outlook of interim goals and expectations from the starting point of kindergarten. The literature serves as a bridge between parents and schools.
"Developing this booklet is a difficult task because we know that programs and assessments will undoubtedly change over the next 13 years," Noonan writes in the book. "The elements required for graduation today may not be the same by the time your child enters high school. We present this information with the important caveat that your first assignment will be to stay in communication with your child's teachers, counselors, support staff and principals along the way."
Noonan said the program was funded by part of the district's $3.1 million Striving Readers federal grant, which targets student literacy all the way from birth to college.
"We're hoping to stretch that grant as far as we can for the next five years," she said. "Now, we are funded last year and this year, from birth to grade 12, and we have to do projects for each phase. Parent outreach is a component of the grant, and I had this idea a couple of years ago, but never had the funding."
This year, the cost of the kindergarten outreach was minor - $4,000-$5,000 for T-shirts and $2,000 for booklets. Noonan herself authored and compiled the literature.
"The book may end up being online on our website at some point," she said. "I like doing the book to the extent we can afford it. This year, we printed 450 copies."
A mountainous graphic at the end of the booklet, entitled "The Journey to the Top," shows benchmark goals as children make their way through the system.
Douglas educators expect students to be reading at or above grade level by the third grade.
"Reading is the most important subject in school. Why? Because a child needs reading in order to master most of the other subjects," writes education author Jim Trelease, whose reading facts are included as an appendix.
By the eighth grade, students should be advanced in their math skills, while exploring extracurricular activities, such as athletics and student clubs. In high school, besides being on track for credit attainment, students are encouraged to take at least one advanced placement course and prepare for college entrance exams.
"With the availability of information on the Internet in today's world, start looking at college university possibilities before your child even enters high school," Noonan writes.
More than wishful thinking, Noonan and her team back up this focus on the future with research.
Using sources as varied as the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Forbes Foundation, 24/7 Wall St., and the Millennial Branding Survey, they were able to present a picture of what the job market may look like in the future. Some of the top fields expected to grow include biomedical engineering, computer science, software engineering, and market research analysis, among others.
"Regardless of the publication reviewed, what is important to remember is that the jobs which existed for our parents and grandparents have changed with technology and may be different or obsolete in the future," the district writes.
Noonan said the packages went home the week of Thanksgiving.
"I'm looking forward to getting out there," she said. "I'm hoping to hear some positive replies. We certainly have put a lot into developing this, and it's unique to Douglas County."