Joni Smith and Karen Parrino

Once you learn to read, you will be forever free. ~Frederick Douglass

As a veteran kindergarten teacher with 24 years’ experience and a science content coach & 2017 Louisiana State Teacher of the Year, we are encouraged by two bills introduced during Louisiana’s 2021 legislative session that can make a positive impact on our state’s youngest learners.


Kindergarten is a crucial year and should be mandatory for all young students. Research shows that brain development is faster in the first five years of life than at any other time. In addition, research has shown the human brain is more receptive the first five years than at any other time period. The first five years represent a real window of opportunity for a child’s brain development and early education.

Not only do kindergarten students learn social skills but foundational reading skills as well. Closing a learning gap once a child enters first grade is costly and difficult because the child needs to achieve their typical year of academic growth plus another year of growth to catch up by even a single level. The data is clear. All children can and will improve, but most will never catch up to their classmates. And this has a lifelong lasting impact. A national study recently released shows that students who do not read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to leave high school without a diploma than proficient readers (

SB10 would make kindergarten mandatory and require school attendance beginning at age five. As experienced educators, we full heartedly support this bill.


SB 216

During this time of crucial brain development, it is important that educators who work with young learners understand the science of reading. According to NCTQ’s 2019 report titled Teacher Prep Review: Program Performance in Early Reading Instruction, “more than half of teacher training programs now teach the “Science of Reading,” compared to 35% just a few years ago, in 2013.” Training educators in the science of reading is an investment in our young learners that will provide them the quality instruction they deserve.

SB216 would require each teacher who teaches kindergarten to third grade and each principal and assistant principal of a school that includes kindergarten through third grade to successfully learn the science of reading. As experienced educators, we full heartedly support this bill.


In closing, our young learners need our commitment to both SB10 and SB216 as they will have a positive impact on their learning. An early investment in our youngest learners will pay off and students will require less interventions in grade three and beyond. Let’s commit to ALL of Louisiana’s young learners reading on or above grade level by 3rd grade and giving them the best start we possibly can! They deserve no less.


Karen Kelley Parrino, NBCT

M. Ed. + 30

Reading Specialist


Joni Smith

Science Content Coach

2017 Louisiana State Teacher of the Year

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  • After teaching Kindergarten and Pre-K, I realize how imperative it is to instill the love of reading at an early age. Every single child I have ever come in contact with has "wanted" to learn to read. The desire is there and as educators we can either ignite the flame or completely squelch it. Teaching students to succeed, each at their own pace, is also vital. We all learn differently and embracing that when you are little helps to realize that life long learning is for everyone. Thank you for your work to ensure our littles get the start they deserve.
    Lovie Howell

    April 19, 2021 9:09 AM

  • SB 216 by Senator Mills was signed into law by Governor John Bel Edwards on June 4, 2021. It had an immediate effective date, so is now in place!
    Stand Louisiana

    June 8, 2021 10:28 AM

  • Thank you for the great job Karen of summarizing these bills and in sharing them with educators this spring.
    Gerri Settoon

    June 29, 2021 9:23 AM