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P4J: Letters, numbers and social skills help kids get ready for kindergarten


I had to change Colton’s tires.

The tires—actually plastic pot lids—were flat, he said.

Colton sent me to Blaine to buy tires. I gave Blaine two plastic nickels and received two imaginary tires in return. The car had engine trouble, too, so I asked Colton to lift the hood, which was represented by a child’s construction helmet. Colton placed a play drill under the helmet, and the car was fixed.

Meanwhile, Dillon or possibly Mycah was giving me endless imaginary cups of root beer, and some child was telling me that carrots are best with ranch dressing.

Aubreigh and a friend presented me with two dolls that needed medicine. I was given sunglasses and a hat to wear. Ryder—I think it was Ryder—kept passing me little plastic plates of food.

This is the world of 4-year-old kindergarten, known as P4J in the Janesville School District.

It’s one of the few areas in which the district is seeing enrollment growth.

At a time when K-12 enrollment is decreasing, P4J numbers continue to rise, primarily because of demographic changes. This fall, 700 students will attend P4J classes. That’s up from 623 last year and 602 the year before.

P4J students attend half-day classes. For some, it’s part of their normal day-care routine. They attend the program at their day-care site and then stay for the rest of the day. For others, it’s the first time they’ve been in an educational or day care type of setting.

The program is funded by the state, and classrooms are led by teachers certified by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. Teachers at both public and private sites are required to use state-approved curriculum.

In other words, it’s not all just fun and games. It’s learning through play.

“We want to get kids ready for kindergarten,” said Angela Lynch, P4J coordinator. “We’re teaching social-emotional skills, early literacy and early math.”

At Washington Elementary School, P4J students in Sarah Oswald’s room started their day by eating breakfast at their desks.

Then it was play time.

The kitchen/store play area was filled with kids doing everything from pretending to fix food to banging stuff with plastic hammers. Elsewhere, kids played with dolls, put together a marble maze or just generally ran around, sharing random bits of information with whomever listened.

When Oswald put on the “clean-up-time music,” most kids rushed to put stuff away. Others needed more encouragement, and some weeping broke out over the marble maze.

After dancing around to get out the last of the wiggles, it was on to the challenges of “What month is this?” and “What is the weather like?”

Next, story time, songs about the letter N and activities such as painting, matching colors, making patterns with bears and building with magnetic blocks.

Infused into every activity was what educators call social-emotional learning. How do we ask somebody for something she has? What if that person says “no”?

Kids are learning the rudiments of self-control, including how to be patient and how to express disappointment or anger with words.

They are learning they will not always get what they want.

When Oswald handed out colored bean bags, the kids said, “You get what you get, and you don’t have a fit” over and over again until all the bean bags were distributed.

Early literacy activities in P4J include identifying upper- and lower-case letters, basic writing skills and identifying letter sounds.

Early math skills include counting and number and shape recognition.

“We don’t expect mastery of those skills,” Lynch said. “What we want to see is growth. We want to see progress.”

It does make a difference, Lynch said.

“Kindergarten teachers say they can tell immediately which kids have been in P4J,” she said.

Parent involvement is a crucial part of the program, Lynch said.

Engaging parents increases children’s success in school.

“The more parents are involved, the more students will attend,” Lynch said. “Also, we want parents to be reading with their kids. That helps kids bond with their parents.”

Each P4J site hosts parent events, and the program also hosts activities for P4J families citywide.

The largest event takes place at Rotary Botanical Gardens.

About 900 people wander the gardens, explore a special “literacy garden,” have something to eat and participate in family reading activities.

Another event, a kids’ art show, takes place at the Janesville Performing Arts Center.

“A lot of it is about families spending time together,” Lynch said.

Part of the P4J enrollment increase has to do with demographics. Birth rates started going up in the Janesville area in 2011 and 2012.

But the program also is getting a boost from parents who are sharing information about it on social media.

“Parents are asking each other about services,” Lynch said. “Social media is the way they communicate.”

The program has a website and a Facebook page.

In addition, the school district has put up billboards to target different neighborhoods and families who might not be connected online.

For kids, the connections start on the rug in front of their teachers or at tables with their classmates. Counting out money for imaginary tires, asking to borrow the plastic hammer and sharing plates of plastic food with a newcomer—that’s learning, too.

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Rock County reproductive care center closing


A clinic that has provided pregnancy testing, birth control and sexually-transmitted disease care to generations of local residents is set to close Oct. 31.

First Choice Health Center, which operated in Beloit and Janesville, is especially important to people who might not otherwise afford the care. Services were provided no matter the patient’s ability to pay.

Community Action of Rock and Walworth Counties, which runs the clinic, stopped offering services in Beloit on Oct. 3.

The Janesville clinic will continue through Oct. 31, said Cecilia Dever, executive director of Community Action.

People who have little or no health insurance will struggle to find the same services elsewhere, Dever said.

Dever said she has reached out to other providers, including Janesville-based Healthnet of Rock County and Beloit Area Community Health Center, to see who might be able to pick up the slack.

A letter informing patients was sent out Tuesday, Oct. 9, Dever said.

The clinic operated about 30 hours a week, most of those in Janesville but on two Wednesdays a month in Beloit, Dever said.

About 1,000 people received services in the first eight months of this year, Dever said. Numbers were higher in the past, but they have dropped off since people began getting medical coverage through the Affordable Care Act, she said.

Community Action has been supplementing clinic funding from block grants it receives, but that takes money away from the agency’s other programs, Dever said.

“At some point, we had to make a business choice, and it’s just not financially feasible anymore,” she said.

That drop in patients meant less funding for the clinic, which receives some of its funding through per-patient government reimbursements, Dever said.

“First Choice provided reproductive health services for both women and men, and it educated individuals about making healthy choices,” Dever said.

“Services included testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, access to contraception for pregnancy and STI prevention and education regarding family planning and sexual health.”

It never provided abortions, and it is not allowed to counsel about abortion because of funding restrictions, Dever said.

The clinic has been in deficit for five to six years, she said, adding: “It was the best business decision for the time, even though we still believe strongly the services are still needed.”

First Choice has a budget of $620,000 this year, Dever said. Federal Title 10 funds covered $211,000 of that. That money is funneled through Planned Parenthood.

Another $47,000 from the federal Title 5 program subsidized services in Beloit.

The clinic also received money from patients who have insurance or through a state program called a family planning waiver, which reimburses the clinic for services rendered, Dever said.

First Choice began serving women in 1972, Dever said. Later, it added male patients.

Patients are mostly from the Janesville and Beloit areas, but some from Walworth County also are served.

“We don’t turn anyone down,” she said.

Rock County exceeds the state average in sexually transmitted diseases, according to state data, and in births to teenage mothers, according to a 2017 county report.

Historically, about 10 percent of the First Choice patients were younger than 18, Dever said.

Those of reproductive age can legally access most family planning services without parental consent. That includes most forms of birth control. Long-term methods of birth control, such as IUDs, require adult status or parental consent.

Healthnet also provides free medical services, although not all the services that First Choice provides.

“We are aware it’s going to be a loss to the community, especially people who do not qualify for Healthnet’s services,” said Healthnet CEO Ian Hedges.

People on Medicare or who earn more than 200 percent of the federal poverty level don’t qualify for Healthnet, Hedges said.

Healthnet has relied on First Choice for testing of sexually transmitted infections, he said.

“We are exploring other options in the community that are cost-effective and make sure our patients receive the full continuum of care,” Hedges said.

Community Action told Healthnet about the closure last week, so the search for options has just started, Hedges said.

He noted Healthnet has just embarked on a plan to expand mental-health services, and he said it needs to focus resources there.

First Choice employed two nurse practitioners, a program manager, a business manager and four medical assistants. All but one have found new jobs, and Community Action is helping the one find work, Dever said.

Anthony Wahl 

Local Janesville artist Jim Richter works on a mural in the one-block alleyway behind storefronts along the first block of West Milwaukee Street. The renamed “Doty Mill Alley” will serve as a pedestrian walkway between the new town square and the festival street area along River Street.

Death notices and obituaries for Oct. 15, 2018

Phillip F. Alf

Joyce Elizabeth (Rieser) Atkinson

Arloa (Lillstrom) Barnabo

Ronald E. Bruce

Elmer G. Chance

Trump on rally blitz as he tries to stave off Dem gains


President Donald Trump gazes out over his rally crowd and unleashes a stream of insults with a theatrical flourish and playful grin. He jabs at Cory Booker the “disaster” mayor, Elizabeth Warren the “Pocahontas” pretender and “sleepy” Joe Biden.

“I want to be careful,” Trump tells the crowd, feigning a confession. He doesn’t want to hit his potential challengers too badly, he says, because then the Democrats might find “somebody that’s actually good to run against me. That would not be good.”

The venue might be Council Bluffs, Iowa, or Erie, Pennsylvania, or Topeka, Kansas, but the formula is largely the same.

Start with a few derisive nicknames, mix in some dreamy-eyed reminiscences of Election Night 2016, spice things up with an unexpected quip or zinger out of left field and you’ve got Trump’s recipe for a successful campaign rally.

Trump’s rallies once were the cornerstone of an unconventional, star-powered presidential campaign that eschewed traditional organizing and defied every expectation. Now they’re being deployed with gusto as Trump and his team work frantically to defy polls and precedent and save his Republican majority in Congress in November’s midterm elections.

The rallies—more than two dozen so far to boost GOP candidates—never fail to delight Trump’s supporters.

“Look at this,” says Brenda McDonald, 58, of Woodbury, Minnesota, gesturing to the thousands of people standing ahead of and behind her in a line that wound around buildings and snaked through alleys for at least a mile when Trump’s rally tour stopped in her state on Oct. 4.

“Have you ever seen rallies like this before?” she asked.

Trump has been aggressively campaigning across the country to try to boost vulnerable Republicans before the Nov. 6 elections when the stakes couldn’t be higher. A Democratic takeover of Congress would stymie his agenda and mire his administration in endless investigations, including possible impeachment proceedings. Trump’s team believes his appearances fire up his loyal base, countering the wave of Democratic enthusiasm that polls suggest will lead to significant Democratic gains, especially in the House.

But after more than 350 rallies since he first began his presidential run, some things have changed.

Trump’s supporters remain as enthusiastic as ever, standing for hours in hot sun or driving rain and exploding into thundering applause when he takes the stage. They wave the same signs, wear the same hats, and chant the same “Build that wall!” and “Lock her up!” refrains that they did during the early days of Trump’s campaign.

But the once insurgent candidate, who told his supporters the system was rigged against them, is now president. And he has been delivering on many of his campaign promises, in spite of lackluster approval ratings.

Trump’s 2016 rallies had the feel of angry, raucous, grievance sessions, as Trump’s “deplorables” gathered in the face of charges they were racist, bigoted and could never win. Gone now is the darkness, the crackling energy, the fear of potential violence as supporters and protesters faced off, sometimes trading blows. The mood now is calmer, happier, more celebratory. Trump’s rallies have gone mainstream, complete with a new playlist featuring Rihanna, “Macho Man” by the Village People and Prince’s “Purple Rain.”

Trump’s campaign, which was notably stingy during his own election effort, has been investing heavily in his recent tour, covering all the costs of organizing and paying for the rallies, including footing the Air Force One bills, according to the campaign.

“Of course, President Trump’s favorite way to connect with and charge up voters is with rallies hosted by the Trump Campaign,” the campaign said in a statement.

And they believe the money is well spent.

Trump’s events often dominate local news for days. Trump’s rally in Johnson City, Tennessee, earned more than $270,000 worth of local television coverage that night and the morning after, according to data compiled by the media tracking company TVEyes and shared by GOP officials.

The Republican Party has been sending cameras to the rallies, so they can quickly post footage that can be spliced into ads.

Officials say they’ve tracked notable polling bumps they attribute to Trump’s visits.

But while the rallies are about boosting GOP candidates, they’re also always about Trump, who has been using them to test-drive messaging for his 2020 campaign.

At rally after rally, Trump has cycled through a short list of buzzed-about potential rivals, labeling each with a derisive nickname, just as he did when he cleared the unwieldly Republican field in 2016.

Trump’s crowds seem most entertained when he veers into offensive, “politically incorrect” territory. He has bragged about how easily he could pummel Biden, the former vice president, or Booker, the New Jersey senator and former Newark mayor, or Warren, the Massachusetts senator whom Trump denigrates for her claims of Native American heritage.

The risk, as he prepares for the 2020 campaign, is whether Trump’s supporters will tire of the shtick.