2014-08-22 / Front Page

Program gives students a jump

School district completes first literacy program for pre-kindergarten students
By Alex Acquisto
Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — Teachers and administrators in Regional School Unit 21 offered an intensive 25-day literacy program this summer for students entering kindergarten, which, for the first time in the district’s history, allowed students the pre-kindergarten experience.

RSU 21 was formed in 2009 with one high school, one middle school and three elementary schools.

The pursuit for some sort of pre-K education, then, was a task given to each individual parent. Because many children enter kindergarten without earlier education, “We get a huge range of abilities,” said Ryan Quinn, principal of Kennebunk Elementary School. “Everything from kids who can read fluently, to kids who don’t know the letter A.”

Typically, said Assistant Superintendent Katie Hawes, children entering kindergarten “have a six-year span in literacy skills.”

While the district’s kindergarten teachers are skilled at differentiating and meeting each child’s individual needs, Quinn said, many children still feel the effects of learning incongruities among their peers.

“The problem is what it does to self esteem and self worth of the kids who sit beside them and can see that they can’t do the same thing,” Quinn said.

Further, getting students in the classroom as early as possible is a high priority.

“With everything we know about kids and brain plasticity and the short window we have to get them as much information as we can before it starts to level off, they’re (kids 3 to 5) going to be able to learn and absorb at a much deeper level,” Quinn said. “It’s not just language that works that way, it’s everything; the more books we can expose them to, the more exposure of any kind in those first years is critical to give them the foundation they need for all the learning they’re going to do in the future,” Quinn said.

Quinn, along with Hawes and six other teachers from Kennebunk Elementary School pooled their talents and devoted more than 100 hours to Kindergarten Jump Start, which was free for parents and open to any student across the district entering kindergarten. Thirty students participated in the program.

Students intently studied one letter each day (with the exception of one day in which they learned two).

The students then rotated through a series of daily activities that included pronunciation and reading aloud, letter face painting, drawing letters, tactile exercises like creating letters with putty, and chanting about letters during recess, Quinn said. The students also created a book for each letter.

The aim with Kindergarten Jump Start, in addition to equipping students with foundational knowledge, is to align students’ literacy levels to make it easier to move forward in classroom curriculum. The goal is for teachers to be able to move at a steady pace.

“If we can get them in school and get them reading, you can give them an extra whole year of really building those foundational skills, that background knowledge that we use to teach everything,” Quinn said.

“These kids will be ready to begin in reading as kindergarteners,” Quinn said of the students who attended Jump Start. “Generally we only have four or five kids who are ready and at that level.”

This experience for students is, of course, about learning, Quinn said, but it’s also to teach students “how to ask questions and how to have fun in a learning environment – those make a huge difference for helping kids who are getting ready to start learning.”

Kennebunk residents Amy Robertson and Jim McClellan sent their son to Kindergarten Jump Start and, afterward, lauded the program.

“This program has been a wonderful experience for my son. In the short span of five weeks, I have already seen such a huge change in his knowledge level and willingness to begin reading,” Robertson wrote in an email. “Additionally, I have witnessed a level of maturity that was not there five weeks ago. He is very excited for school and I anticipate the transition to go smoothly. I am recommending it to anyone who asks about it.”

The earlier kids can read, Quinn said, “The earlier we can give them that broader base that they can use to jump start their learning. This is why we need to give them as much literacy as possible.”

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