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Hilltowns Archives The Altamont Enterprise, June 19, 2008
At BKW, first pre-kindergarten program forms foundation for future learning
By Tyler Schuling
BERNE On Monday afternoon, 4-year-olds were singing a cadence at Berne-Knox-Westerlo Elementary School, preparing for tomorrow’s graduation ceremony.
“I don’t know but I’ve been told, kindergarten is the place to go,” they sang. “I learned my numbers and my ABCs. Now I’m as smart as I can be.”
In BKW’s pre-kindergarten program new this year students learned social and organizational skills and about nature.
Funded through the New York State Universal Pre-Kindergarten Program, BKW’s program is a collaboration between the school and Head Start, a national project that promotes school readiness. Before the 2007-08 school year began, Head Start’s pre-kindergarten program had been taught at the Thompson’s Lake Reformed Church.
This year, two groups of students participated in the program 12 students came for the morning session and another 12 attended in the afternoon. The students in the morning session rode school buses to school, ate breakfast in the cafeteria, and were picked up by their parents at 10:30. Those in the afternoon class were brought to the school by their parents in the late morning. They either brought lunch to school with them or got lunch in the cafeteria and rode the bus home.
“I think the program has run really smoothly,” said its teacher, Lisa Momberger. She first became interested in teaching younger students at age 13, when she began babysitting. “I’m really impressed with the progress of the children,” she said. “For the first year of a program opening up, I think it went extremely well.”
Marge Capuano and Kay Quinto assisted Momberger. Quinto, a family development specialist with Head Start, has been working with pre-schoolers for about 30 years. She said she “works with parents who might need help from social services.”
Michael Puzulis, whose daughter, Michelle, is in the program, has continually praised the teachers. He called them “awesome, awesome people.”
“They took the time to mold [Michelle] into who she’s starting to become,” he said.
The great thing about the program, Quinto said, is that it is in the same wing as the kindergarten and the students become familiar with the cafeteria and riding a school bus.
BKW is small, she said, and “You really get to see progress. There are a lot of success stories and that’s what makes it worthwhile.”
Momberger said people sometimes look at early education as playtime or “glorified babysitting” but it’s not.
Children learn a lot of important skills in pre-k, she said; she sometimes calls it “the basement.”
“Because, really, it sets the foundation for future learning. It really can because they start learning the higher order thinking skills here. They learn how to sort. They learn how to classify. They learn to think through and answer a question and think about ‘What if?’ and try out different things,” Momberger said. “These are all important skills that they’re going to need later on to be successful learners in school. I think that pre-k really is important. It’s why I’m here.”
In the classroom
Each day, after breakfast or lunch, the pre-kindergarten students had a group meeting. They read stories based on a theme for the week or on a unit they were learning. They also planned what they would do that day. Students were also given responsibilities. One job was to take attendance. Another was to say the day, month, and date.
The students then planned for their day and chose from eight learning centers.
“The centers reflect the unit I’m teaching,” Momberger said.
Two of the units were on planting and bugs.
For the planting unit, the children watered and measured plants. Their plants are displayed along a wall and their stalks reach toward the ceiling and wind around tape measures. Momberger said she is trying to do activities that touch all domains but are not specifically focused as they sometimes are in the older grades.
“This was a really good activity because it went across a lot of domains,” she said. “Obviously, math. They’re learning how to measure and recognizing the numbers on a measuring tape. Social skills they’re planning for the classroom environment; they’re caring for their plant. Speech and language because they’re discussing how big their plant is so they’re going to use vocabulary.”
The students also learned about water where a raindrop goes, how rain fills up oceans, lakes, and rivers, and about what lives in water. They learned, too, about the difference between fresh water and salt water. They had a salamander and a frog in the class and learned how fish have gills and how they breathe, how a tadpole grows, and about the word “amphibian.”
“I can’t say enough about them,” said Puzulis. “These teachers they’re just great.”