A three-year partnership between school and community to provide more options for 4-year-old kindergarten is a success, according to educators.
On Monday, June 10, the New London Board of Education approved a new one-year contract for the 4K Community Collaborative.
The 4K program puts certified teachers in three area day care programs – Day Care Center of New London, Headstart in New London, and Kuddly Kids’ Childcare in Dale. It lets 4-year-olds at those centers participate in the same play-based curriculum offered in the New London School District’s four elementary schools.
“The benefit for kids is they’re already there,” said Kathy Gwidt, director of teaching and learning for the district.
Instead of going to day care when parents go to work in the morning, then being transported to school for a three-hour 4K class, then back to day care, these youngest students get it all under one roof.
About 50 of the district’s 163 students in 4K for 2012-13 were enrolled in the day care centers, according to Gwidt.
Before the district launched 4K, there were programs for the neediest children and preschools for children whose parents could afford them, according to Gwidt.
“What we were missing were the folks who were right in between,” she said.
And that middle group of children enrolling in 5-year-old kindergarten were missing skills, Gwidt said.
With ever more rigorous state and federal education standards, today’s 5-year-olds need to know how to get along and how to line up before they get to kindergarten, according to Gwidt. 4K gives them an “understanding that the world is bigger than myself and my family,” she said.
Using a model from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, the district partnered with the day care providers to add certified staff who teach a uniform 4K curriculum.
The 4K program is three hours four days a week.
Since the 4K program began, Gwidt said, 5K teachers have seen a difference in confidence and social skills in their new students.
Jo Collar, principal at Parkview Elementary School and district liaison for the 4K program, emphasized that these young students learn through play.
“A lot of their socializing skills come from play – taking turns, how to work together in a small group, how to solve problems working with other students,” Collar said.
The 4K classrooms feature an assortment of interest stations, from reading and math to housekeeping. Field trips and an end-of-the-year picnic add to the mix of fun and learning.
“It’s play, but it’s organized play,” Collar said. “It’s so much fun.”
The centers hire their certified teachers, with input from the district. The same licensing and background checks are required as for district teachers.
4K teachers at the centers and district schools get the same training and attend team meetings together. The new contract calls for input from parents and guardians of children in the day care 4K classes.
The district reimburses the day care sites for the cost of the 4K program; the dollar amount per child is based on funding the district receives from the state, according to Gwidt. For 2013-14, reimbursement is set at $1,900 per child.
The day care centers pay their staff, and parents pay their own day care costs.
Fewer Homeless, More Special Needs
In her final appearance before the school board, Ann Christopherson reviewed the district’s “special populations” among students.
Christopherson is retiring as director of pupil services.
For the 2012-13 year, the district had 123 English language learner students; 371 special education students; 40 who were homeless; 154 high risk; and 37 at-risk.
In the 2011-12 year, there were 124 English language learners; 349 special education; 53 homeless; 143 high risk; and 23 at-risk.
After rising over the past 11 years, the number of homeless students dropped this school year, Christopherson said, although, “we have homeless children in every grade.”
The district increasingly receives requests from parents “for more than we can offer,” Christopherson said, mentioning rent money, prescription medicines and household goods.
Community groups such as the New London Lions Club and Community Cupboard have helped with some of these needs. Christopherson said the Lions assisted four families with optical exams and eyeglasses for children, and the Cupboard paid for prescriptions several children needed to help them learn.
“In New London, groups come through over and over and over again,” she said.
Among the successes of the school year, Christopherson counted six students who walked the stage at graduation after earning diplomas through the GED Option 2 program. Two more students have a test to take before earning their diplomas.
“I was extremely proud,” she said, describing some of the at-risk students as very bright people who excelled in an alternative school setting.
The GED Option 2 also had three drop-outs, who decided not to continue as fifth year seniors, Christopherson said.
With the proposed Catalyst Academy, the district hopes to capture more at-risk students, Christopherson said. This time of year, she said, there are more calls from families wanting to know “how can I get my child across that stage,” diploma in hand.
The district has applied for a planning grant from the state for Catalyst.
In other business:
• This was the last board meeting for district administrator Bill Fitzpatrick, who is retiring. He thanked the district, community, administrators and “all of the boards that I have had the pleasure to serve with.” Fitzpatrick, smiling, urged them all to continue a spirit of collaboration, build on the district’s successes and fix any failures of past administrations.
• The board approved a plan for weighted grades for honors courses. Students who earn an A in an honors course would receive 5 points; an A in other courses is worth 4 points. The extra point would be awarded for any grade of C-minus or better.
• The purpose of weighted grades is to encourage students to take more rigorous courses. Weighted grades first will be used by the Class of 2017 – who will be freshmen in 2013-14.
• Joe Marquardt, director of business for the district, informed the board of the purchase of a 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan. The vehicle replaces a 2001 Dodge Caravan with 278,000 miles, faulty windshield wipers and severe mechanical issues.
• Marquardt said the van is used daily, for varied purposes such as transporting students who go off-site for their education and for travel to sporting events when only a few athletes are participating and a bus is not needed.
• Spanish teachers Beth Nelson and Michelle Huebner showed photos from a trip by 40 Spanish students and adult chaperones to Costa Rica in March. Highlights of the trip included a day at a school, where they played “duck, duck, goose” in Spanish with local children, sighting a 17-foot crocodile and daring a zip-line adventure of nearly one mile above the tree tops. Nelson said the large group represented the district well.