In its second year in Merrill, four-year-old kindergarten is paying off with students who are better prepared when they enter regular kindergarten as 5-year-olds.
“Kindergarten teachers are saying, ‘wow, what a difference’,” said 4K director Beth Tepper. “They know the routines and the social things.”
“The addition of 4K has made the transition to kindergarten so much smoother, and the benefits seem to be both social and academic,” said Kate Goodrich kindergarten teacher Connie Schwandt. “From knowing how to line-up and work with other children to already understanding concepts of our current curriculum.”
4K has helped prepare students in multiple ways, added Washington kindergarten teacher Cyndi Lentz.
“The biggest impact has been the fact that the students know what school is. They know how to listen to a story, do table work (write names, cut, draw), and lining up. They have learned to work together in a group and wait their turns. They have learned to share and play with each other,” she said. “When these skills are mastered or even started they are ready to work on the academics of kindergarten. We were able to start teaching skills like numbers and letters sooner. Many students also came to school knowing their alphabet, how to write their names, could count to 20, and write numbers. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) adopted by the state of WI asks kindergartners to gain even more knowledge and skills than ever before. With the addition of 4K we will be able to reach these standards.”
MAPS has 158 children enrolled in the 4K program this year. Of those, 103 attend the program at the five community sites and about 55 are at the MAPS Head Start-Early Childhood site. Community sites include Merrill Child Care, New Beginnings Daycare/Preschool, Parkside Preschol, Trinity Lutheran Preschool and St. Francis Catholic School.
The 4K program is open to any child living in the Merrill Area Public Schools district who will be four years old on or before Sept. 1. Out-of-district residents may open enroll in February.
Parents can chose the site where they wish for their child to attend 4K.
“We give parents three choices and try to honor their first choice,” Tepper said.
The curriculum is the same at all sites, and all use the same assessment tools.
Students at the community sites may attend the 4K program for a portion of the day and also stay for daycare during the remainder of the day.
Classes run from September through June, coinciding with the MAPS calendar. Children may attend either a morning or afternoon session. Classes are held either Monday through Friday for at least 2 3/4 hours per day, or four days a week for 3 hours and 10 minutes per day.
Teachers in the community sites are employees of those sites, but have to be state licensed to teach the 4K program.
Tuition is free and busing is provided if parents choose it.
“We’re getting kids ready to learn,” Tepper said. “They learn through play at this level. We do have academic benchmarks that are very specific to skills and concepts that feed into the curriculum of kindergarten.”
Statewide, 4K continues to grow, with more than 46,000 students enrolled in 368 districts. Enrollment has more than doubled over the last 10 years. Most growth has come through the community approach, which is used by at least 115 school districts including Merrill.