Prekindergarten students listen as their teacher Denise Cox tells them about a book at Nikiski North Star Elementary School. Some parents are trying to set up a similar program at Tustumena Elementary School in Kasilof.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
With more and more emphasis on meeting mandated standards, students, even those just beginning their academic careers in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s kindergarten classrooms, need to be more prepared than ever.
“Our kindergartners now, if you compared them to five years ago, need to know more,” said Nikiski North Star Elementary School Principal Lori Manion. “Part of that is No Child Left Behind. It impacts us at the grass roots. We’ve got to make sure kindergartners have the skills they need for their first assessment, in third grade.”
The solution in many schools across the country, in addition to making kindergarten a full-day class, has been to start prekindergarten programs, part-time sessions for students to prepare them for kindergarten.
Nikiski North Star has launched a pilot prekindergarten program on the Kenai Peninsula, and a proposal to launch a similar program at Tustumena Elementary School in Kasilof is in the works.
“We hope to come up with a class of 10 to 15 students,” said Tustumena Principal Ken Halverson. “It would not only be a service to the families in our community, it would also be an excellent way to get kids ready for our kindergarten program.”
With the goal of launching a prekindergarten program, Halverson formed a committee at Tustumena to work on a proposal for submission to school district administration. The committee includes several teachers from the school as well as parents from the community. Among other things, the committee has circulated a survey in the Kasilof area to gauge interest in the program.
Surveys were expected to be returned by the beginning of this week, and Halverson said the committee would like to have a proposal ready to submit by the time classes let out for the holiday break. Should it go as planned, Halverson sees a prekindergarten program starting when the second semester begins Jan. 17.
While Halverson said community support has been strong and there is a room available for use at Tustumena Elementary, the main obstacle to getting a program off the ground is funding. Halverson said he’s hoping the district can provide enough money, perhaps out of some unused federal grant funds, to provide a part-time, certified, highly qualified teacher to lead the class.
“We understand the school district doesn’t have money sitting there waiting for us to start this program. We’re not going into it with any guarantees for funding,” Halverson said.
Still, Halverson said he feels a prekindergarten program is important enough to make it worth a try. Halverson and Manion cite numerous studies that show children who have been in a preschool setting tend to be better prepared when they start kindergarten.
Parent volunteer Josh Thompson pours milk during the prekindergarten breakfast.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Halverson also noted the similarities between the two communities, most notably that private preschool opportunities are limited unless parents have the means to drive 20 to 30 miles into Kenai or Soldotna every day to get their kids to a preschool, something gas prices and work schedules make difficult to do.
At Nikiski North Star, the prekindergarten program this year is funded out of the school’s Title I federal funds. However, Manion said federal funding across the district is expected to drop next year, and she’s hoping the state Legislature will come up with some funding specifically for prekindergarten programs for the 2006-07 school year.
A cooperative preschool program has been in place for several years at Nikiski North Star, and the prekindergarten program was added to fill a need in the community this year.
The prekindergarten runs Monday through Thursday, with students arriving at 8:45 a.m. and going home at 12:15 p.m.
There are currently 18 students in the prekindergarten class, and Manion said there is more than enough community interest to start a second class if funding was available.
In fact, there is a waiting list for the prekindergarten program, and the preschool class, which meets Fridays, has been so well-attended it’s been broken into two sessions.
“It’s something we continue to be concerned about. We need some support from the state and from the Legislature,” Manion said. “The state needs to staff a half-time person in every elementary building to run a prekindergarten program. Parents are starting to do what they can to rally the troops. Maybe we’ll get some funding.”
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