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Francis Howell Starts New 'Off to Kindergarten' Preschool Program

Increased rigor of kindergarten curriculum prompted district leaders to add new classes.

Increased rigor of kindergarten curriculum has prompted the Francis Howell School District to create a new "Off to Kindergarten" preschool class in the hopes that more students will start school prepared to succeed.

The Francis Howell School District this year began using new "common core" curriculum for students in kindergarten, first and second grades.

The curriculum will be taught in all grades in the 2014-15 school year and is more rigorous than what has been taught in the past. 

"Literacy expectations have risen quite a bit," Shelley Willott, district literacy coordinator, said. "What we would typically have thought of as first grade is now kindergarten."

Children are expected to write earlier and read more complex things by the end of kindergarten, which is one reason the district decided to try a preschool class designed to prepare students for that early rigor.

"We are going to look especially at our literacy and the need to enrich or deepen what they are able to do when they leave preschool," said Mary Jo Griffin, director of Early Childhood Education.

Other area school districts, including the St. Charles School District, have begun to offer similar programs targeted at preparing students for kindergarten. 

Students in the Off to Kindergarten classes will learn to break down words so they can sound them out, practice recognizing upper and lower case letters and practice writing.

Teachers will focus on three levels of social skills for students in the class: peer playing and peer communication, understanding circle time and group learning, and taking instruction from adults. 

The district will continue to offer multi-age preschool classes that serve children from 3 to 5 and plans to deepen the literacy curriculum in those classes as well. 

"There's a lot of strength in multi-age," Griffin said. 

The Off to Kindergarten classes will be open to any child who is 4 years old by Aug. 1, 2013, meaning they would be enrolling in kindergarten the following year.

Students can enroll in the class at any of the district's three early childhood centers: Central School RoadHackmann Road and Meadows Parkway

Cost to enroll is $48.50 per day for enrolling less than 5 days a week or $39.25 for enrolling 5 days a week.

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