Pre-K program highlights interaction

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October 25, 2011 - 12:00 AM

A preschool program here that promotes interaction between the young and the elderly is serving as a model for other school districts struggling to get kids ready for kindergarten.
Jana Shaver, Kansas State Board of Education member, and Gayle Stuber, early childhood development coordinator for the Kansas State Department of Education, spent Monday morning getting a first-hand look at USD 257 and Windsor Place’s Age to Age program.
“It’s a unique program that can be showcased for other facilities that might want to do something similar,” Shaver said of the program USD 257 started last school year. “It’s a concept that will grow.”
Since September 2010, about 60 at-risk four year olds have spent a few hours each day with residents of Windsor Place, an activity prompted by a similar program in Coffeyville.
Stuber said the cutting edge program is a different way to look at early education methods.
“It’s always nice to have something that steps out of the box,” she said.
The Iola school district traditionally used Greenbush Education Service to provide pre-kindergarten learning for its at-risk four-year-olds. However, USD 257 Curriculum Director Gail Dunbar said after learning about Coffeyville’s program and the benefits it provided to both its aging population and its children, “we decided to take on the four-year-old at-risk preschool program.”
According to Wichita State University and Kansas State University researchers, students in Coffeyville’s kindergarten Age to Age program seem to advance in school at a faster rate than peers who either attended a traditional kindergarten class.
“They’re following those kids as they graduate and are dispersed among the first graders,” said Marian Highberger, human resources executive for Windsor Place in Iola. “In average reading levels, they are two to three years ahead of their peers and social skills, they’re also two to three years ahead of their peers.”
USD 257 Superintendent Brian Pekarek said those studies also show enrichment for the elderly involved in the program.
“We know the program fosters respect for the elderly, compassion and consideration — all the principles we want to teach in school,” he said. “But what I find fascinating is that dementia patients that were totally out of it, when they are around children and they hear the children, they become better. Something in our minds links to that experience.”
Shaver, who’s visited Coffeyville’s Age to Age program and attended its first graduation, said whether studies or research illustrate benefits among the elderly involved with the Age to Age program, to her the positives are obvious.
“It just lifts your heart to be around the little kids,” she said.
Stuber, a major player in early childhood development for state government, said both Iola and Coffeyville’s Age to Age programs are shining examples of what happens when education efforts are bought into by entire communities and should serve as models for other districts struggling with pre-K education.
“This is a really good example of a local community doing what works best for them,” she said. “That’s what makes this a good program.”
Both Stuber and Shaver said they plan to share highlights from their visit to Iola and USD 257 with their colleagues in Topeka.

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