Estacada School District leadership cites importance of early years in school success

COURTESY PHOTO: ESTACADA SCHOOL DISTRICT - The Estacada School District will launch a pre-kindergarten program this fall to ensure that all young students are prepared for school.

Preschoolers in Estacada will be able to get a jump on learning this fall when the Estacada School District launches a pre-kindergarten program.

The pre-K program, open to all families in the Estacada School District, will be housed at River Mill Elementary and include one teacher and several support staff members.

The program will cost participating families approximately $200 each month. School district staff estimated that half of the families will qualify for financial aid.

The program is aimed at ensuring that students are ready for their first day of kindergarten.

At the start of each school year, young students across the state are assessed as they enter kindergarten to determine if they have a basic understanding of letters and numbers, along with self-regulation and interpersonal skills.

Kindergarteners at River Mill and Clackamas River elementary schools scored just slightly behind the state average, and Estacada School District leaders are eager to close that difference.

"With the kindergarten assessments, they come to us at that level. We want to catch the gap before it occurs," said River Mill Elementary School Principal Jennifer Behrman.

Rather than marking test papers as their older counterparts might, the kindergarteners receive informal evaluations. Teachers sit with them individually and show them exercises with numbers and letters and see how much they already know.

Across the state, students correctly identified an average of 14.3 uppercase letters, 11.7 lowercase letters, 7.7 letter sounds and 11.1 numbers out of a total of 16.

At Clackamas River, students identified an average of 14.4 uppercase letters, while students at River Mill identified 13.6. Clackamas River students identified 11.2 lowercase letters, while River Mill students identified 10.8.

Clackamas River students identified 6.3 letter sounds; River Mill students identified 6.1.

In math, Clackamas River students correctly identified 10.3 numbers; River Mill students identified 10.8.

Instruction in the pre-K program will focus on literature, math, science, social studies and social and emotional skills. The curriculum will follow the Oregon Department of Education's pre-kindergarten learning standards.

Students will also have the opportunity to become familiar with a school environment. They'll eat breakfast and lunch in the cafeteria, visit the library and participate in physical education and music classes.

"(They) can slowly learn to be students and gain foun-

dational skills," Behrman said.

She noted the importance of early learning opportunities.

"There's a (learning) gap between the kids who came in knowing the foundational skills and those who didn't. More and more research shows that if we don't catch that gap by second grade, students will struggle throughout school," she said.

"We're here to set kids up for success, and the earlier we do that, the better," added Estacada School District Communications Coordinator Maggie Kelly. "There's a huge body of work that shows how important those early years are."

There will be two pre-K classes of around 16 students each. One class will meet on Mondays and Thursdays, and another will meet on Tuesdays and Fridays. Wednesday will be an optional day for both classes.

Summit students are prepared for school

Small scholars at Summit Learning Charter scored the highest on the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment of all the schools in the Estacada School District.

Summit kindergarteners correctly identified an average of 13.4 numbers, 19.1 uppercase letters, 17.2 lowercase letters and 15.1 letter sounds.

Because elementary school students at Summit Learning Charter primarily study from home and the assessment requires educators to observe students in their learning environment, teachers schedule home visits with all kindergarten students.

Summit Learning Charter Principal Sean Gallagher attributed the students' success to the support of their parents and families.

"We have an engaged parent community who have invested to make sure their kids are ready for their school," he said.

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