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Delavan bilingual preschool program helps kids transition into kindergarten

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ANN MARIE AMES
February 9, 2011
— For some things, language isn't necessary.

You don't need to read a sentence to imagine the sound Julian made while he drove his toy car up the wall, through the air, across the bookcase and back.


Nor did Serenity need to explain what she was doing as she concentrated with all her 4-year-old might on cutting out the "O" for "octopus."


But for those times when words are necessary, Julian and Serenity are learning each other's languages.


The two are participants in Community Kids' bilingual preschool program for 3- and 4-year-olds. Like most preschool programs, this one is designed to help smooth the transition into kindergarten.


The bilingual element is especially helpful for children whose families speak only Spanish at home, said Donna Wold, director of child development for Community Kids Learning Centers.


It's a demographic that faces many challenges, Wold said.


"There are a lot of barriers," she said. "This is one we can help with."


In addition, kids who grew up speaking English get the chance to learn Spanish words and phrases. The curriculum focuses on teaching kids to recognize words, letters, shapes and colors in English, Wold said.


Teacher Liz Lora is fluent in English and Spanish, and she uses both in her classroom. During calendar time, for example, Lora speaks in both languages. The children welcome a visitor with a song that has English and Spanish words in it.


Posters hang on walls and bookcases describing the "centers" children can choose for play. Spaces for art, writing, dramatic play, blocks, science and math are labeled in English and Spanish.


As in any preschool program, the goal is to encourage children to play in a variety of ways, said Theresa Kexel, program manager at the Community Kids center in Delavan.


"We want to expand on what the kids want to learn," she said.


The center runs two bilingual preschool classes, Wold said. It also offers wrap-around care, which means kids can stay in the day care program before and after preschool.


The preschool program is in a room separate from the day care to give kids the sense of "going to school," Wold said.


Community Kids, which is part of the Janesville-based nonprofit Community Action, operates five programs for school-aged children—two in Delavan and three in Whitewater. The center also operates day care facilities in Delavan and Janesville.


The Delavan center is licensed to serve 85 children.


Community Kids is open to the public, although it serves a high number of children whose families participate in the Wisconsin Works (W-2) program, Wold said.


The goal is to reach out to more families and expand the bilingual program, Wold said. The possibility is there, considering that 41 percent of students in the Delavan-Darien School District were Hispanic in the 2009-10 school year, according to Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction data.


That number has been increasing steadily by 1 to 3 percentage points since 1996.


Community Kids worked with the school district to develop its bilingual preschool program, Wold said.


The only requirement for such a program is having a bilingual instructor. The second language doesn't need to be Spanish, she said. Children have a tremendous capacity to learn languages when they are at preschool ages, Wold said.


"When they get to middle school and high school, it's work," Wold said. "They get homework and tests, and it feels like work. At this age, it's not."



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