During “Week of the Young Child,” April 20-27, young community members take center stage. There are playgroups scheduled, storytimes, a younger version of the Olympics, dance classes, tips for parents and more.
Two southern Kenai Peninsula public schools — Chapman School in Anchor Point and Paul Banks Elementary School in Homer — are committed to keeping that focus on youngsters in the newborn-to-5-year-old age group.
In 2009, Chapman opened its doors to a pre-kindergarten program for 4-year-olds.
“The value of pre-K is well established,” then-Principal Sharon Trout said at the time.
“School readiness, language development, early literacy; it’s all solidly researched and now being developed in our district. Research shows that a pre-K program improves high school graduation rates, reduces grade repetition and reduces the number of students placed in special education, and also reduces criminal delinquency.”
Five years later, Principal Conrad Woodhead, in his third year at Chapman, said benefits of the program are obvious in multiple areas.
“We build school skills a year earlier and they have a quality foundation coming into kindergarten now,” said Woodhead.
The youngsters are learning skills such as walking in a straight line, keeping their hands to themselves, sitting still and listening, all groundwork preparing them to get the most out of kindergarten.
The 20-student pre-K program also has helped Chapman boost its enrollment.
“You can almost see the line in our population,” said Woodhead of the K-8 school’s student population. “Because we now have a pre-K program, we basically feed into the kindergarten program with the same kids.”
In terms of evaluating the program’s worth, Woodhead said pre-K is one piece of the school’s success. Some of the other pieces he listed were the school’s intervention program, the quality of its teachers and the quality of being a small school and the creativity that makes possible.
“Last year we were awesome as far as test scores,” said Woodhead. “The pre-K program definitely plays a part. I think it’s all connected.”
The school’s gym also is used for a parent-child playgroup for youngsters 0-5 offered by Sprout Family Services. The playgroup meets for one hour a week, yearround. When school isn’t in progress, the group meets at the beach.
“The idea is that they get ready for preschool,” said Marjorie Scholl, playgroup coordinator, of the opportunity for youngsters and parents to spend time together.
Ten to 15 families participate in the program, but School said there are 90 families with kids ages 5 and younger in the Anchor Point area.
“That tells us there’s a lot more people we can reach,” she said.
Paul Banks also has a pre-K program for four-year olds. There is a morning and an afternoon session with a maximum 10 students in each one.
“It gets the kids school-ready, it gets the parents school-ready and it gives us a better idea of who’s coming up,” said Principal Eric Pederson, whose daughter is one of the youngsters enrolled in the program.
“She’s learned things you take for granted, like sitting in a chair, which is a huge thing for kids, and how to appropriately listen to a story, how to communicate,” said Pederson. “Sometimes these youngsters need guidance on how to play together, to take turns and share. All those things are covered.”
As at Chapman, Paul Banks’ faculty collaborates so the kindergarten teachers are aware of what the 4-year-olds are learning.
“They’re very excited about these kids and are able to jump in that much quicker,” said Pederson.
There are 10 pre-K programs within the Kenai Peninsula Borough District, according to Sandy Miller, coordinator of the district’s federal programs. The pre-K’s are funded by Title 1, a federal program benefiting schools according to poverty levels.
“We use student free and reduced lunch forms to determine the economic status of each school. Once the school qualifies, we identify each student in the building that needs service,” said Miller. “For the children who receive services, it has nothing to do with income. The school gets the funding based on it, but once we know a school is a Title 1 school, the students that need help get it.”
Miller was recently at Paul Banks to do assessments for the pre-K program.
“We look at motor skills, language development, concept knowledge,” she said. “We’re looking for children who give us an indication they need a little boost so when they enter kindergarten they’re ready to go.”
It has now been almost 10 years since the first pre-K program began in the district.
“Looking at (assessment) scores we’ve been able to collect, it definitely is showing a very positive difference for these kids,” said Miller.
Pederson was quick to point out Chapman and Paul Banks aren’t the only programs supporting the area’s five and younger population.
“This town is incredible with preschool programs,” said Pederson. “There are niches for every kid. I love what (Paul Banks) is doing in our program, but there are other people out there preparing kids also. … In the big picture, that’s why you have so many schools in Homer that are four- and five-star schools.”
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.