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A good head start: District 833 preschool kids finding success in kindergarten

It was "yellow day" recently in Jennifer Sterner's preschool class at Newport Elementary School, so Sterner encourage her students to wear something yellow for their half-day class. Talking about letters and learning to take turns to talk (from left) are Emmanuel Ayoyemi, Autumn Sullivan, Sterner, Liban Guled, Suad Abdullahi, Alexa Zelaya and Conner Erickson. Bulletin photo by Judy Spooner

Last year's preschool grads at Pullman and Newport elementary schools are in kindergarten this year and many parents have opted for full-day classes as a result of the success their kids had.

There are now two sections of all-day kindergarten at both schools this year as a result of parent interest. Last year, there was only one class at each school.

School District 833 piloted preschool classes at the two schools last year for $150,000. Classes were offered at no charge because both schools have a high number of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches, the federal standard for determining poverty.

This year, preschool is being offered for a fee, with some scholarships, at the remaining district schools.

There is high interest on the part of parents. Registration, usually open until August, according to Dave Bernhardson, assistant superintendent of elementary education, was filled in February.

Karyn Cronin said she initially registered her daughter, Reghan, for preschool last year at Pullman because it was free.

It didn't take long for Cronin to notice changes in Reghan.

"I couldn't believe how fast she learned," Cronin said in an interview. "Every day she learned something new. She was really prepared for this year. What an advantage preschool gave her. She's eager to learn and recognizes words when we're reading."

After preschool started last year, teachers tested kids by asking them to identify pictures, such as one of a fire engine. They were also tested in rhyming words, letter names and letter sounds. Nine percent of those tested knew letter sounds and 30 percent identified letter names. Only 12 percent recognized any of the pictures.

By the end of the year, 80 percent to 88 percent of the kids passed tests.

"They wouldn't have had the opportunity if we didn't provide it," Bernhardson said. "They would start kindergarten already challenged."

In the 2008-09 school year, Bernhardson assembled a committee to explore having all children attend all-day kindergarten. Children now attend half days with parents paying a fee for the second half of the day.

The committee determined that, even if the district compelled kids to attend all-day kindergarten, there would still be problem with kids not ready for school, he said.

"We saw the success after the first year," he said and started what's termed "e-class" for all students.

Another side benefit was that parents attended monthly parent meetings. "They are vested in their community," Bernhardson said.

All but one family took advantage of all-day kindergarten this year, said Ed Ross, Pullman principal. One family decided their child would do better by repeating preschool.

There was no negativity at the graduation ceremony, Ross said. Many parents said it was the best thing to happen to their children."It's the best intervention, bar none."

Katy McElwee Stevens, paraprofessional at Newport school, helps out this year in kindergarten classes.

"You can tell the ones who've had preschool," she said. They are comfortable and learning.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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