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A focus on kindergartners

Grant would help schools better prepare youngsters for learning

Lyle kindergarten teacher Kari Witt and student Audrey Ramirez lead Witt's class through a counting song Friday.

Photo by Jolene Guzman

Lyle kindergarten teacher Kari Witt and student Audrey Ramirez lead Witt's class through a counting song Friday.

February 04, 2014

DALLAS — Polk County school districts are applying for a grant to create a countywide position to help ease the kindergarten transition for area students.

If the three-year, $75,000 Oregon Community Foun-dation grant is approved, it will be used to pay for a P-3 (pregnancy to third grade) coordinator to be shared by the Dallas, Central, Perrydale and Falls City school districts.

Todd Baughman, principal of Lyle Elementary School in Dallas, said the coordinator would be able to assist each district in different ways, based on needs. For example, for Lyle, Baughman said the coordinator would help contact and provide information about kindergarten classes and registration to families whose children are not enrolled in a public preschool program — such as Head Start — or private preschool.

"Those families have traditionally been hard to reach," Baughman said.

Baughman also would like to provide a summer transition program for kindergartners, especially those who will be learning English as a second language, to help them get accustomed to the classroom environment and school routines.

If the grant is awarded — the districts should learn in early March — the coordinator would further the school districts' efforts to better prepare their youngest students for learning.

With the assistance of a smaller OCF P-3 planning grant, last summer Lyle and Oakdale Heights Elementary School increased communication with families about preparing children for school. That included promoting early registration, posting "kindergarten readiness" and early registration information on the district's website, and handing out brochures showing what a child should know before entering kindergarten. The grant also helped pay for state-mandated kindergarten screenings at both schools.

Baughman said early registration in particular helped get the school year off to a smooth start. This year, the vast majority of students were registered more than a week before the first day of school, giving teachers and staff an idea of what to expect. In past years, the school would still be enrolling several students on the first day of class.

"That may not sound like a lot, but that week and a half really made a big difference," he said.

Baughman said those efforts are in response to the state's emphasis on smoothing the transitions between preschool and kindergarten, as well as between high school and college.

"The state is trying to create better systems and supports for those transitions," he said.

More changes are in store, too, including the possibility of full-day kindergarten classes. Starting in 2015-16, the state will pay for students to attend full-day kindergarten, but it won't be mandatory.

Dallas hasn't made a decision regarding full-day kindergarten, but is looking into costs, logistics and curriculum planning for extended days. Baughman said at this point, it's possible for the district to consider all full-day classes, some full-day sessions or none.

"We are in the planning stages of considering what that would look like," Baughman said.

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