A child's early years are the most formative, and Moffat County early childhood teachers want the school district to adapt its preschool and kindergarten programs to meet students' needs.
A group of kindergarten and preschool teachers presented their formula for better early childhood education to the Moffat County Board of Education at its Monday night meeting. The teachers have been working together in a committee for the past seven months to come up with a plan.
"We looked at the options, at what we felt would meet our increasing kindergarten needs," said Janet Bohart, school district director of curriculum and staff development. "We wanted to look at the entire early childhood program, not just kindergarten."
The committee's primary recommendation was that the school district provide an early childhood center, which would combine preschool and kindergarten classes in one building. Having a combined facility would meet the committee's goals in terms of curriculum, developing social skills, establishing family connections, allowing teachers to restrict class sizes, and developing work groups.
"It's the only way to make sure all those components are put together in a meaningful way," said Sarah Hepworth, director of the Moffat County School District Early Childhood Center. "It creates a lot of different options for individual needs."
A one-stop educational center would also offer flexibility in placement, program options and staffing, Hepworth said. It would also alleviate the anxiety children face when making the transition from preschool to kindergarten.
In the face of a tightening school district budget, committee members understand that the creation of an early childhood center is probably not fiscally feasible, said East Elementary School kindergarten teacher Tiffany Trevenen. So, committee asked the school board to keep its first recommendation in mind, but to enact its second or third, which are to offer full-day kindergarten for the students who need it, and extend the school day for kindergarten students by 15 minutes.
Offering full-day kindergarten would serve two populations of students: Those who need additional skills, and those who are advanced enough to want additional time.
"Kids are coming to kindergarten more prepared now," Trevenen said. "Research shows full-day kindergartners do better on standardized tests."
Extending the school day by 15 minutes would alleviate time wasted running from activity to activity.
Now, students' days are choppy and time is spent traveling to physical education and music classes, the computer lab and the library. Extending the day and putting physical education or music classes at the beginning or the end of the day would help eliminate the time in transit, and adding 15 minutes to the school day would allow more time to teach social skills and spend more time on math.
Committee members also asked that one day each month be set aside as a family collaboration day, when teachers could work with parents and teach them skills they can use to educate children at home. Teachers would also visit the homes of "at-risk" students to help parents work with students.
"We're trying to form a collaborative effort for the betterment of the child," Trevenen said. "We're talking about building those bridges and forming those bonds to present a united front between parents and teachers."
According to Trevenen, research has shown the importance of home education on a child's school performance and their perception of school.
For students who have reached kindergarten age, but are not ready for school either socially, academically, or emotionally the committee asked the school board to implement one pre-kindergarten class that would serve all schools. This year, approximately 12 students who met the requirements to enter kindergarten were held back either by parents or on a teacher's recommendation. A pre-kindergarten class would to help get those students ready for kindergarten without giving them the stigma of underachieving.
The problem with opening a pre-kindergarten class is funding, said Superintendent of School Duane Wrightson. The state pays a set rate per pupil for students in kindergarten through 12th grade, but not for any education before that.
"We're getting a mixed message from the state when they're telling us kindergarten is not mandatory, but that kids should be able to read by the time they go to first grade," board member John Wellman said.
Bohart asked the school board to do three things: Keep in mind the priorities set by the committee, start making changes by extending the school day for kindergarten students, and give the group direction to continue as a committee.
The board was receptive to extending the school day, but wanted administrators to investigate if it would impact any program negatively.
Wrightson said he will come back to the board with a recommendation.