Though the school year is well under way, organizers of a new pre-kindergarten program are already planning for busy days in the classroom next summer.
"Stretch to Kindergarten," a seven-week all-day program for children entering kindergarten, piloted last summer with 42 students from low-income families, and organizers say they hope to expand to around 60 kids in 2010.
Liz Simons, a parent and former primary and secondary school teacher, spearheaded the project.
"I thought, what an important age that preschool time was," she said, "and how much can be taught -- not just the academics but how to learn, how to be in school."
Stretch to Kindergarten selected last year's participants from children already enrolled for kindergarten in the Mountain View Whisman School District. Simons said some students had attended preschool, but the majority had not. All students in the program came from families whose annual household incomes are
$60,000 or less.
Simons and co-organizer Joanne Reed said they saw vast improvements in the children over the course of the program. They presented their findings at a district board meeting on Nov. 19.
Based on parent surveys, they reported, students made significant gains in following instructions, doing tasks like hand washing independently, playing well with other children, enjoying books and expressing their needs and wants to adults.
They said that at the beginning of the summer the children couldn't sit still in a circle, but by the end of the program they had learned better classroom behavior and improved their listening skills. They also found a better than 90 percent attendance rate, and that parents or primary caregivers of 81 percent of the children participated in at least one activity.
Stretch to Kindergarten is also trying to change the "whole family mentality," Simons said, adding that many underserved families "don't really feel a connection to their schools."
It was encouraging, she said, that in their evaluations parents said they wanted to participate more, and were planning to incorporate more family activities into next summer's program.
At the board meeting, organizers reported that one mother walked for over an hour each day to bring her child to the program.
The program was free for participants, and funded through Simons' own organization, the Heising-Simons Foundation, which supports causes related to families, education and alternative energy.
In the coming months, the district will be checking in on how program participants are doing in their regular kindergarten classes, though Simons said she believes the training will extend beyond their first year of grade school.
"I think if you can get them started in a good way, in a way that makes them feel good about learning, that can really propel them as they go through life," she said. "That will get them off to the right start."