Equity Data Series: Kindergarten Readiness

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In our service area, one in six students is not ready to learn and succeed when they begin kindergarten. The percentage of children not meeting Fall PALS-K Benchmarks in our region has been slowly increasing since 2013.

Inequities in Kindergarten Readiness 

We used PALS-K data to identify inequities in Kindergarten Readiness in our region. Here’s what we found: 

Black students make up 32% of total students but account for 35% of failing students.

White students make up 44% of total students but account for 28% of failing students. 

Hispanic students make up 13% of total students but account for 30% of failing students.

We also found that 1 in 4 low-income students failed PALS-K compared to only about 1 in 8 students who are not low-income. 

PALS-K stands for Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening for Kindergarten. Fall PALS-K benchmarks help schools identify kindergarten students who may be at risk of falling behind and need additional instruction. Visit our Indicators of Community Strength pages to look at PALS-K data across our region.

How United Way Helps 

United Way of Greater Richmond & Petersburg currently funds eight programs at eight local nonprofits supporting Kindergarten ReadinessOur total 2020-22 investment in this area is $915,000. 

Research has shown that children who attend high-quality preschool are better prepared to be successful in school and in life. A successful transition to kindergarten is crucial for students as it sets the foundation for their entire educational journey, so students who come under-prepared begin school already at a strong disadvantage. Unfortunately, many families in our region experience financial barriers to high-quality early childhood education.  

United Way’s Kindergarten Countdown Camp (KCC) aims to help close this preparedness gap by providing a free summer learning program for rising kindergarten students with limited to no preschool experience. KCC is taught by a licensed teacher who works with students on skills to equip them with the social, emotional and academic skills they need to succeed in kindergarten and in life, like cutting in  a straight line; recognizing shapes, letters and numbers; as well as listening to directions. 

In the second year of the program, KCC offered a virtual format that opened the program to households across our service area, resulting in a 200% increase in the number of participating students and families. 100% of responding families used content at least one time per week to boost their students’ kindergarten readiness skills. Parents reported that students improved skills necessary for kindergarten preparedness, such as letter identification, number identification and social emotional practices.

Learn more about the outcomes of our 2019 and 2020 sessions of Kindergarten Countdown Camp.


The Preschool Child Development Program at FRIENDS Association for Children provides high-quality childhood education for low-to-moderate income families. Classes provide academic, social and cognitive development to prepare students for success in kindergarten and beyond. The program utilizes a whole-family approach that engages parents/grandparents in learning beyond the classroom.

In addition to supporting young learners, FRIENDS is also helping to address generational poverty that has become a major issue in the community. By extending lessons into the home, parents are able to reinforce the child’s growth and development; and many continue their own education by participating in skill-building classes each month that cover topics ranging from parenting skills to health/nutrition to financial management.

In the 2017-18 school year, FRIENDS served over 150 students, 92% of whom were below the poverty level. 100% of their four-year-old students last year achieved both social/emotional and cognitive growth that met or exceeded their age-appropriate levels. 93% of those same students achieved the literacy skill growth needed for kindergarten success.

How Can You Help? 

Designate a donation to Kindergarten Readiness today. Your donation helps us make equitable education a reality for our region.


Learn more about United Way’s Data Equity Series: