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Fair Lawn Rethinks Kindergarten

The district will introduce a supplementary kindergarten program next year to support certain children in basic skills development, and set elementary students off on firm ground.

When Fair Lawn teachers and administrators saw certain students continue to struggle with learning difficulties through elementary and middle school, they decided to address the problem at its source.

The district will introduce a supplemental kindergarten program for the 2013 school year, adding two hours and fifteen minutes of instruction time in literacy and math for kindergarteners identified by the district as in special need of basic skills development.

“The whole idea of getting kids help is the earlier you get it, the quicker it sets in and the better chance they have of a better education as they move up,” Superintendent Bruce Watson said.

The screening process to identify children in need of support will begin in March, as parents start registration for September kindergarten. Close observation of students’ learning and social habits will continue through the first two months of class, and testing and teacher evaluation will identify students eligible for the program, which parents can send their students to voluntarily.

The program will begin October 28, to allow teachers time to evaluate students after they’ve settled into the classroom socially.

The tests for eligibility in the program, Assistant Superintendent Natalie Lacatena said, are “not a predictor of future success. They’re really just a snapshot of where the children are at the moment.”

An issue is that, at age five, an age difference of just a few months can leave a significant gap in cognitive development between students, with the possibility that children with birthdays late in the school year will fall behind their class early. Lacatena pointed out that these gaps even out as students get older, but the supplemental program will help put students on an even ground as they move into early elementary grades.

The program will cost the district an estimated $200,000, much of which will come from federal funds allocated to the district through Title I of the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act. The program, Watson says, was developed by the district without any like models in surrounding towns, based on research conducted by the board of education.

Eligible students will have the opportunity to attend the program either in the morning or afternoon—opposite of the time they attend their regular kindergarten class. The four classes will be split between the Warren Point School, where Milnes and Radburn students will also attend, and Forrest Elementary, where students will be joined by kindergarteners from Lyncrest and Westmoreland. Midday transportation will be provided by the district.

One of the key features of the program will be fostering supportive educational environments at home.

“What we are trying to do is at a very young age get a partnership with parents. You need parents. If you go to districts that are not doing well, I guarantee you’ll see a high rate of parent noninvolvement,” Watson said.

Part of that will be providing guidance in how to continue basic skill development at home, by increasing conference time and communication between teachers and parents of students in the program.

“We want to bolster teacher/parent relationships,” Watson said. “So whatever the teacher is working on, we want the parent to be able to take some facet of that and support the child at home.”

The district hopes that, by essentially giving a head start to the early intervention programs already in place at elementary schools, it can bring students up to grade level reading and arithmetic early on, and prevent a wrong first step from snowballing into more serious learning difficulties later in life.

“If a child is undetected as having learning problems, whether they be reading, processing, memorization, or any of those skill sets, if they fall through the cracks then all of a sudden you find out a child is in sixth grade and they have these problems," Watson said. "That’s pretty late in life to really turn that kid around.”

Jenne January 16, 2013 at 04:00 PM
Well, it could be that a program like this would save on remedial instruction later on. Remedial instruction often involves specialists rather than classroom teachers and is more one-on-one, thus often is more expensive.
RP January 16, 2013 at 06:16 PM
Remedial instruction later on could also be avoided if Fair Lawn Kindergartner's spent more time in the class room learning and less time on a bus being shipped back and forth between KidCo and class. It's time that the BOA realized that 1/2 day instruction serves no one.
Mayor Goldie Wilson January 16, 2013 at 08:04 PM
A program designed to provide opportunity for academic advancement for all of our children? Outrageous! Mayor Goldie Wilson supports providing education to the sixth grade level with no extracurricular activities. If children wish to continue their education beyond that point, let them get jobs and pay for it. If not, as a noted judge has pointed out, the world needs ditch diggers too.
Deleted because of harassment January 16, 2013 at 11:17 PM
Fair Lawn is far behind the rest of the state in not having a full-day kindergarten program. Kids with special needs benefit from early intervention to the point that they usually catch up with their peers within a grade or two and the end result is less expense for the district for the child's future education. FWIT, both of my children entered kindergarten able to read and do simple math because of their pre-school experiences. The earlier we spend time educating children, the better they will be able to continue to progress, too. When we limit their learning in school, the effort needs to be made up in future grades - if it isn't we send them into a spiral of failures that builds up as surely as their assistance into making progress helps them to continue.
Tony Sina January 17, 2013 at 05:02 PM
That wouldn't be Judge Smails, would it?

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