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Pre-K program teaching youngsters new skills

WARRENSBURG New Pre-K teacher Melinda Burkhardt watched her 11 young morning-session students gather spontaneously Monday in a reading center in her classroom, sharing and comparing books that teach letters and numbers. The children were talking quietly about their discoveries as Burkhardt watched and smiled. I love watching them discover things on their own, she said. Theyre learning a lot, but theyre having a really good time. Warrensburg Centrals Pre-K program is off to a good start with no setbacks except for limited furniture as 22 children are learning new academic and social skills, public school administrators and teachers said Monday. With enthusiasm, the 22 pre-K students are tackling new skills, WCS Elementary Principal Amy Langworthy said. Theres a lot of focus on academic readiness skills, and its a fun way to learn, Langworthy said. Its providing a nice way for them to transition to a full-day of Kindergarten next year and it levels the playing field with those who have other pre-school opportunities. Warrensburg Central Superintendent of Schools Tim Lawson also expressed enthusiasm Monday for the program. We are delighted to offer Pre-K in our district, he said. The program offers an opportunity for kids to get a jump on the educational environment, and develops the socialization and early-learning skills expected later on. So far, the pre-K students have been coloring, examining calendars, working on handwriting, listening to stories, learning rules of cooperative play, singing songs about months, seasons, or days of the week, and learning to recognize letters, colors and shapes. Some are are beginning to decode words, Burkhardt said. Learning to socialize and fit into a classroom routine are important elements of the Pre-K experience, she added. Instead of merely lecturing the children on the classroom demeanor, shes let them contribute their own rules of conduct. The children were apparently well-versed at home on how they were to behave, she said, because the students themselves suggested classroom rules including No Hitting, No Biting, No Screaming, No Slapping, No Interrupting, and Wait Your Turn, Langworthy recalled. She is assisted in the classroom by aide Deb Collignon. The new Pre-K classes in Warrensburg have prompted a lot of interest from other elementary teachers, Burkhardt said, noting that teachers often peer through her classroom door to see the children in action. Its almost like were an exhibit in the zoo, she laughed. When we were working with Play-Doh, other teachers wanted to join in. The Warrensburg Pre-K program is fully funded by the state Education Departments Early Education Initiative, which has provided $79,000 for this school year to operate the program, Warrensburg School District Business Administrator Kevin Polunci said. The school board decided to go ahead with the Pre-K program, although they were concerned that funding might be dropped at some point. Regional Superintendent of Schools John Stoothoff said that Warrensburg Central was one of the few in his 31-school district to launch a pre-K program including Hadley-Luzerne, Whitehall and Hudson Falls although school administrators are enthusiastic about the concept. Many other schools, he said, didnt start up a Pre-K program because of space constraints or a lack of full funding from the state. Langworthy said the only setback so far was the fact that furniture hasnt arrived yet the classroom is now relying on donated tables and chairs. But theres one other negative aspect, she added the sorrow some adults felt when separated from their pre-schoolers on the first day of school. More parents cried than kids, she said with a smile.

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