For the second year in a row, RSU 12 is offering expanded pre-kindergarten opportunities at its schools, and positive benefits of this expansion are already evident. School administrators and kindergarten teachers are impressed with the gains realized by the children who participated in the pre-K program last year.
Palermo Consolidated School Principal Dale Haywood explains what she sees in these children and the positive effects they have on their peers. “It’s amazing, the difference!” said Haywood. “Even the students who didn’t go to pre-K are able to follow the example of those who did. The student behaviors and classroom readiness are so much farther along.”
Christina Gardner, kindergarten teacher at Palermo Consolidated School, confirms Haywood’s report. “The transition to kindergarten has been smoother than ever!” she said. “I am so pleased with how easy the kids have adapted to kindergarten.”
Gardner sees a significant difference between those students who attended the pre-K program and those that did not. Another kindergarten teacher in the district, Gail Beck, of Whitefield Elementary School, also sees a difference. She observed greater familiarity with school routines and transitions and higher academic skills.
“The lunchroom routine went very well as they already knew how to get their tray, milk, and silverware and how to sit at the table,” Beck said. “My other children are still trying to remember the routine. Academically, most of the children know how to write their name, hold a pencil, cut with scissors, and know a great deal of letters and numbers.” In addition, she noted that the parents of those students who attended pre-K also seemed to have a better transition, with fewer concerns for their children.
Early assessment data confirms what teachers and administrators are seeing. In a sampling of data from schools in the district, the average fall reading assessment scores for those kindergarten students who participated in RSU 12’s pre-K program were 18 points higher than the average scores for kindergarten students who had no pre-kindergarten learning experience.
RSU 12 is one of about a dozen districts across the state of Maine participating in a pre-K expansion grant through the Maine Department of Education. The grant enabled the district to operate four pre-K classrooms last school year: two at Chelsea Elementary School, serving students from Chelsea and Windsor; one at Whitefield Elementary School, serving students from Whitefield and Alna; and one at Somerville Elementary School, serving students from Somerville and Palermo.
This year, the district added a fifth classroom at Windsor Elementary School. The classrooms are a partnership between RSU 12 and two Head Start agencies — Southern Kennebec Child Development Center and Midcoast Maine Community Action. The Head Start partnership has enabled the district to offer a level of comprehensive services to families in need, including assistance securing educational, medical, and other resources. Although the grant only reimburses costs for students from families at or under 200 percent of the federal poverty level, the district is committed to offering this pre-K educational opportunity to as many students as possible, regardless of family income. Each classroom has students from families across a variety of income levels.
There are still a few openings in this year’s pre-K classrooms. Those interested in enrolling a child should contact their local elementary school or RSU 12’s district office at 549-3261.