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Is 4K OK? Teachers say program has kids more ready for school

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Stacy Vogel
November 8, 2007
— The kindergarteners in Elli Kuech’s class were hard at work on a fall project.

The kids in the Edgerton Community Elementary School classroom studiously glued fall leaves onto sheets of construction paper, arranging them by size, color or shape.


It’s times like this when Kuech notices the difference between this year and last year, she said.


“My kids seem to understand when they sit down to the table, it’s time to work,” she said.


A fire alarm interrupted the young students at 1 p.m. Although it was only their second drill of the year, they knew exactly what to do. The children quickly lined up behind their teacher and filed into the hallway, several with fingers plugged in ears.


This process, too, is easier this year, Kuech said.


These students, you see, already have a year’s worth of experience with fire drills. Drills were a regular part of their 4-year-old kindergarten program last year.


It’s the simple skills—lining up, sitting down at the table, using scissors and paste—that were the most valuable part of the 4K curriculum and helped the 4-year-olds get a jump start now that they’re 5, Edgerton kindergarten teachers said.


“The kids just seem to be more school-ready,” said Shari Badertscher, elementary principal for the Edgerton School District. “They just seem to understand what school is.”


All but eight of the 4-year-olds living in the district last year were enrolled in Edgerton’s inaugural 4-year-old kindergarten program. Of the eight students not enrolled, four went to private preschool.


A total of 21 of this year’s kindergarteners didn’t go through Edgerton’s 4K program because 13 5-year-olds moved into the district this year, though some of them could have attended other preschool programs, Badertscher said.


The almost-universal participation in the program accounts for its success, Kuech said. One of the major goals of the program was to eliminate the learning gap between children who attended preschool programs or received instruction at home and those who did not.


“The idea was that everyone would come in at the same place,” Kuech said.


In previous years, teacher Katie Precourt would get students who couldn’t even identify their names, she said. This year, all of her students could.


Another teacher, Connie McChain, said she had one student this year who couldn’t identify his name—and that student didn’t attend 4-year-old kindergarten.


“It was very obvious the first week of school” who had been in 4K and who hadn’t, Kuech said.


Small things tell Badertscher the program is working, she said. No kindergarteners have to use special “loop” scissors this year because they all can grip the normal kind. They have an easier time walking through the hall to specialty classes such as art and music. The specialty teachers tell Badertscher the kindergarteners are more ready to learn this year.


“The kids can hit the ground running,” she said. “Teachers can start focusing on academics.”


That’s not to say the school will raise the standard for kindergarten, she said. But she believes the extra year of school gives the students a better foundation that will help them all the way through elementary school.


Other districts are taking notice of Edgerton’s success, she said. Fort Atkinson School District officials visited the 4-year-old classrooms in September, and Stoughton Area School District officials will do the same this month.


Edgerton kindergarten teachers said they’d “definitely” recommend 4-year-old kindergarten for other districts.


“I think we’re ahead of other districts, and I think other teachers are envious of that,” Precourt said.



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