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Kelso starts new early learning program to boost school readiness

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Boarding bus (copy)

Barnes Elementary School kindergartener Quinn Epperson and her mom, Erin Bybee, board a school bus to get familiar with the experience at Kelso School District's kinderpalooza event in June at Coweeman Middle School in this TDN file photo.

Applications for the Kelso School District’s new transitional kindergarten program are open, with the goal of giving more students an early learning experience and boosting kindergarten readiness.

Early Learning Coordinator for the district and Carrolls Elementary School Principal Julia Owens said while the district has been looking at increasing early learning options for several years, the idea for transitional kindergarten started to come into focus last year.

Other districts in Washington, like Bellingham, and other states have been running similar programs for years, she said.

Transitional kindergarten is different from preschool, she said. Students start in January and the program runs through June. Then, students enter kindergarten that September. In class, students focus on skills they’ll need in the fall: sharing, communicating, reading and writing, even basic math and science skills.

Pre-k options expand at Kelso's Wallace Elementary, making classrooms more inclusive

“The goal is a slow transition,” she said. “It’s not preschool level. You take what a kindergartener would be doing in September when they start and the kids in for transitional kindergarten will start doing that in January.”

The application process opened Friday and will close Nov. 5. It’s online on the district website and paper copies are available at all elementary schools.

Sixty slots are available to Kelso students. Students will be divided into four classes: two classes at Butler Acres Elementary School for students attending Coweeman Middle feeder schools, which are Butler Acres, Rose Valley, Carrolls and Wallace elementary schools; and two classes at Lexington Elementary School for students attending Huntington feeder schools, which are Lexington and Barnes elementary schools.

Owens said each class of 15 will have a teacher and a paraeducator assigned to it to give students more one-on-one attention and get them engaged.

Kelso's second kinderpalooza reassures parents, kids about school in the fall

The program is targeted at “kids who have not gotten access to high quality preschool” or other early learning, Owens said.

For example, a student who attends Head Start or the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program would stay in that program and not move to the district’s in-house program, she said.

“It’s a great opportunity,” Owens said. “It provides that even start to kids who haven’t had that same opportunity (for early education).”

A 2020-2021 state Department of Children, Youth and Families study found Kelso is one of Washington’s school districts most in need of expanding early childhood learning programs and opportunities.

An estimated 353 children in the district are eligible for Head Start and the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program, yet the Kelso community only serves 30% of them, according to the study.

Study: Kelso needs to expand early childhood education

Owens said the transitional kindergarten program will work in tandem with Head Start and the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program “to close the gap.”

“This is providing access to success in kindergarten and beyond,” she said.

Applications are not first come, first served. Owens said there is a screening process that will identify the children most in need of the program. Age-wise, students are eligible if they were not yet 5 years old by the Aug. 31, 2021, kindergarten cutoff date, but will be 5 years old by the Aug. 31, 2022 cutoff date.

Classes will start Jan. 3 and will be fully integrated, meaning students will “ride the bus just like a kindergartener would and go to recess just like a kindergartener would,” Owens said.

“It’s a great opportunity for our Kelso students,” she said.

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Organized by about two dozen students in grades 2-5 and led by teacher Sarah Marlow, the giveaway event is open to the entire community and is meant to make sure everyone can put some presents under the tree this year, regardless of financial situation.

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