ELLINWOOD — At one time, kindergarten was a place where students learned social skills, to sit still, and even to take a nap during their half day of school. No more.
While students still learn such skills, they are increasingly being taught academics.
USD 355 has implemented a new phonics program for kindergartners, resulting in new improved reading readiness results called Pathways to Reading. By this past October, the second year of the program, students were progressing so fast that teachers said many would soon be ready to read.
“It’s the best phonics program I’ve ever taught,” said Evelyn Stegman, Title 1 teacher. She has been teaching for 42 years.
“What we are doing at EGS is the best I’ve ever done,” she said. “This has made us the most powerful school in meeting the needs of kids. It takes kids wherever they are and takes them to where they need to be.”
The students are learning in kindergarten such things as the sounds of ck and why there are more c’s than k’s. They learn vowel blending and segmenting, and rhyming, as well as information about letter combinations.
Once they learn those things, including the consonant variables, the rest of the word is easy, said kindergarten teacher Molly Cherry. The result has been better pronunciation of vowel sounds.
The program has been a challenge for teachers, too. “I’ve learned so much because of Pathways. It has made me a better teacher,” said kindergarten teacher Amy Metro. “It makes sense.”
The new program involved new learning for the teachers. “It was very overwhelming,” said teacher Molly Cherry. “But we’re seeing results.”
“The kids are better readers and spellers,” said Stegman.
Students are expected to work through four levels with the hope the students will get to Level 4 by the end of the school year. This year, 16 out of 43 kindergartners were finished with Level 3 and expected to be on Level 4 by Christmas break. They know all of their letters and sounds and are ready to read.
The program is also fun. “The kids are very excited about learning,” said Cherry.
The teachers were thankful for all of the staff that works with them including paras who work with groups of students as well. They were all in agreement that they had superb paras.
“We have never had this many students ready to read at this time of year,” said Principal Eric Sjogren at a school board meeting in early November.
The schools uses the Pathways program from kindergarten to second grade.