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Pre-K boot camp jump-starts learning

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Nearly 60 students who will start kindergarten at Franklin schools in two weeks are getting an early start in learning to think analytically.

On Monday, some of the students heard a story about fairies read by their teachers, who stopped periodically to discuss the different job duties held by tooth fairies and blanket fairies. Other students, who are spending this week studying health and nutrition, helped their teachers make lists of fruits and vegetables they like to eat.

The students, who are enrolled in Franklin’s three-week pre-kindergarten camp at Northwood Elementary School, also are learning what will be expected of them when they start school.

Shortly after 9 a.m., about 30 minutes after the camp started, one student asked if it was time to go home yet. After his teacher told him “no” he remembered he has to stay until the camp is over.

Franklin has offered the kindergarten camp since 2005 to students who don’t pass an assessment given when they enroll in kindergarten. The assessment gauges how well students recognize letters and numbers, whether they can name colors and if they can write their name. Students who earn a score of less than 67 percent are asked to attend the kindergarten camp, program coordinator Chloe Limbach said.

The camp is one of only a few programs in the county for students at risk of starting kindergarten behind. The 57 students attending this year’s camp will attend full-day kindergarten at one of Franklin’s five elementary schools this fall.

Teachers want students to be as well prepared as possible for kindergarten, since that’s the grade when they will learn to read, if they’re not reading already, and early math skills.

Kindergartners who can’t count, recite the alphabet or write their name typically haven’t been through preschool, and students who haven’t mastered those skills are considered already behind on their first day of school.

Franklin’s 12-day program can’t compensate for one or two years of preschool, but it can at least get students thinking about and prepared for what their teachers will ask of them when school starts, Limbach said.

“If we can reach those kids and jump start (them) earlier, then we’re already laying the foundation of what is expected,” she said.

Franklin has seen the need for the program grow since it began: 12 students enrolled in kindergarten camp the first year, and for the past several years 55 to 60 students attended, Limbach said. But the program still isn’t reaching all of the students who need the advanced start, Limbach said.

This year 82 students of the more than 250 students who were registered for kindergarten in April didn’t pass the initial kindergarten assessment. She said invitations were sent to all of those families, but not everyone responded.

And Limbach isn’t sure whether Franklin will be able to offer the camp again next year.

Franklin pays for the camp with federal funding to educate students from low-income families, called Title 1 funds. This year Title 1 funds have been cut for some schools, and that could mean Franklin won’t have enough money for the program next summer, Limbach said.

The total cost of the kindergarten camp is about $14,000. Families aren’t charged anything for the program, and this year Limbach started looking for ways to cut costs, such as eliminating field trips with fees. Officials don’t know if Franklin will lose Title 1 funds; but if the money is cut, she said, the program could end.

Ending the program would mean eliminating the head start given to kindergartners so they aren’t as behind on their first day of school, she said.

When school starts Aug. 7, a few of the students from the kindergarten camp will wind up in Megan Greene’s kindergarten classroom at Northwood.

Greene has been teaching kindergarten for the past six years, and in that time the standards have changed. Incoming students now need to be able to recite the alphabet, count to at least 10 and write their name because those skills will help them learn to read, which they must be able to do before first grade, Greene and Limbach said.

Typically Greene needs about two weeks to assess whether a student needs extra help with letters or numbers, but it doesn’t take as much time with the kindergarten camp students. Those students have been tested twice — once when they registered for kindergarten and again at the end of the camp — so Greene knows exactly how well they understand the lessons she’ll be reviewing in class, she said.

“The data really helps to give each student what they need,” she said.

As soon as teachers identify the students they don’t think are ready for kindergarten, Franklin starts contacting parents about the camp, Limbach said.

They often have to follow up with parents several times. Some parents don’t reply because they already have vacations planned for the summer.

Others aren’t ready to start sending their child to school before the summer is over, and others may worry that sending their child to the camp is an indication that they’re behind, Limbach said.

Franklin also continues to enroll students for kindergarten. Staff members will assess those students to see how well prepared they are for kindergarten, but they have no way to help them catch up before school starts. Franklin’s kindergarten teachers start working with those students on the first day of school, Limbach said.

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