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‘New’ kindergarten multiplies learning

With the recent addition of all-day, every-day classes, teachers are finding that they can offer more challenging concepts to today’s youngsters and can expect them to enter first grade with a strong grasp on letters, sounds and even computers.

Monday, September 06, 1999

With the recent addition of all-day, every-day classes, teachers are finding that they can offer more challenging concepts to today’s youngsters and can expect them to enter first grade with a strong grasp on letters, sounds and even computers.

A 27-year classroom veteran, Brenda Jeffrey has taught kindergarten at Chesapeake Elementary School for the past 10 years.

"I started seeing the class start changing five years ago," Mrs. Jeffrey said. "And every year, it has gotten stricter."

Kindergarten teachers used to only teach social and motor skills, but now they teach the letters, the sounds, a sight vocabulary and how to write sentences, Mrs. Jeffrey said.

"As of last year, we added a computer program and the kids learn computer skills while they are doing reading and math programs," she said. "Kindergarten is so much more academic now. Our expectations are higher and the children are much more ready when they come to school."

The state requirement that kindergarten students attend school every day instead of just every other day has provided a consistency to learning that allows the students to go on to first grade with a strong grasp on what they need to know, Mrs. Jeffrey added.

"If they don’t know something, it’s mainly a maturity problem," she said. "I don’t think it’s frustrating for them. If they catch on, fine. If they don’t, there’s time to catch on."

And even though kindergarten teachers used to only teach half of what they do now, they are up to the challenge, including Mrs. Jeffrey.

"You never run out of things to teach them, not with all the things we’re expected to do now," she said. "The children need to come every day to learn everything. And, if you do have them all this time, you have more time to do fun things with the lessons."

Burlington Elementary School principal Mark Christian cannot believe how much more advanced the kindergarten classes are now compared to those of the past.

"The kindergarten now is more like the first grade," Christian said. "It used to be all social skills and day care, and now they’re doing stuff we did in first grade."

Advanced curriculums could not be possible without the decreased student-teacher ratio, however, said Matt Watts, Burlington kindergarten teacher.

Watts has seen vast changes in the amount he is able to interact with his students since he began teaching the youngsters.

"Four years ago, we had it every other day," Watts said. "And I had two kindergarten classes – A and B. I had 33 students in class A and 32 students in the B class. That’s 65 kids with no aide."

Times have changed, though. Watts only has 18 students this year and he has an aide helping him.

"I think they realized that it all starts in kindergarten and in the first-grade," Watts said. "A good foundation early on makes for better learning and better success later on. Smaller numbers and having an aide allows for more one-on-one help for students who really need extra help."

When Watts taught alone and had 30 students, he would have had trouble helping a student who was having trouble writing a letter of the alphabet, for instance.

"Now, I’m able to sit down for a little bit with that kid and polish his skills," Watts said. "With only 18 kids and one person in the class with me, that’s one teacher for every nine kids. That’s a good ratio, especially compared to years past where there was one for every 30. The smaller classes now are truly a blessing."

Taking the kindergarten program one step further, West Ironton School is the only one in the county to house only kindergarten students.

"There are advantages to bringing the kids together," said Susan Heyard, board of education administrative assistant and former West Ironton principal. "For the teachers, there are the advantages of working with your colleagues. They can share activities and resources. And the concept of having children all the same age together is nice. We are able to gear any educational thing specifically toward that age group."