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Pre-K educators discuss registration, curriculum and parent’s ‘homework’

MADISON – Educators with Madison’s pre-kindergarten students discussed state- and district-defined objectives with Dr. Ed Nichols, Superintendent of Madison City Schools, for his podcast, “Sittin With the Supe.”

Nichols met with Nichole Phillips, Principal of Madison City First Class Pre-Kindergarten; Lisa Koerlin, lead teacher for Pre-K; and Melissa Mims, Coordinator of Elementary Instruction.

Pre-K is available to four-year-olds and funded with grants secured from the Office of Child Development in Montgomery. The prospective Pre-K student must be four years old, on or before Sept. 1, Mims said.

By early September, 398 students had pre-registered; however, the Pre-K center has 216 open slots maximum for the 2023-2024 school year. MCS will accept Pre-K applications from parents through March 17, 2024. By state mandate, a random-selection drawing on April 4, 2024, will decide the students that can enroll, Phillips said.

“Anytime a student withdraws for any reason, we fill open slots from the waiting list,” Phillips said.

The State Department of Education has an initiative for Pre-K funds. “You get a grant to establish a Pre-K unit (or classroom) to fund a teacher and teacher aide for 18 students in each class,” Nichols said.

Madison’s Pre-K center has 12 classrooms. “Two teachers are in each classroom. The lead teacher is a certified teacher in early childhood education. The auxiliary teacher holds credentials in child development or early childhood education,” Phillips said.

In addition, MCS has Pre-K programs not associated with four-year-old pre-K. Early childhood programs are available in the MCS Special Education Department. Some are partial-day programs.

The Pre-K center is housed at the former West Madison Elementary School. After about 70 years, West Madison closed in 2021. The $7.3-million renovation included new floors, furnishings, HVAC, ceilings, safety and technology enhancements, bathroom fixtures, playground equipment and signage.

“North Alabama has a lot of great options, but our consistent wait list shows that our Pre-K program really shines,” Koerlin said. “It is a play-based environment, but we take over 6,900 pieces of documentation every year.”

Pre-K teachers already track social, physical, fine motor development, literacy and math level for the four-year-olds. “This helps the kindergarten teacher to ascertain if students have more needs,” Koerlin said. “It’s an amazing environment. We are a team that has the same goal.”

State guidelines serve as a rubric of what a student needs to learn in a four-year-old school year, Nichols said.

“Most literacy skills start in conversation. We’re immersive in the classroom. We have read-alouds,” Koerlin said. Students learn “What do the words look like?” and “What do the pictures of this story portray?”

As part of curriculum, the four-year-olds work on rhyming, letter recognition and initial sounds. Basic conversation is important as a base of learning these concepts.

“Working and developing conversational skills prepares the students for kindergarten, when they get into functional reading,” Nichols said. Koerlin agreed but pointed out that some four-year-olds in Pre-K already have learned to read.

“We focus on the process of their understanding that print has meaning – the fundament of all literacy,” Koerlin said.

Another concept for Pre-K students is self-talk, which involves the student’s describing his/her drawing or ‘what you’ want to say. “We take pride in being immersive with the students in conversation,” Koerlin said.

Phillips stated the four major goals of kindergarten readiness, which the Office of School Readiness defines:

* Enthusiasm for learning – “Pre-K is the first time that most students are introduced to a school in a structured setting . . . and MCS’ expectations as a whole,” Phillips said.

* Social interaction – Students should learn the ability to function in a social setting. “In the classroom family, how do we connect and respond to each other when we are happy . . . or upset?” Phillips said.

* Communication and problem-solving – Must be age-appropriate. A strong vocabulary strengthens a child’s interaction with others, even adults. Math skills contribute to problem-solving reasoning.

* Optimal health – “We do multiple health screenings,” Phillips said.

If a child’s name was not selected for four-year-old Pre-K, “a parent can help to prepare a child for kindergarten by having conversations with the child, reading, health check-ups with a pediatrician and exposure to community activities for the social aspect,” Phillips said. “Reading, talking, singing, poems, nursery rhymes . . . all contribute to language development.”

The MCS website, madisoncity.k12.al.us, includes a page of suggestions to parents for Pre-K preparedness, Mims said.

Rachel Gibbs and Russell Johnson produce Nichols’ podcast, along with assistance from John Peck.

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