District plans kindergarten readiness

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By Kristin Schultz

Gazette Reporter

Niskayuna school officials plan to revamp the district’s voluntary summer sessions to focus on kindergarten readiness rather than middle school enhancement.

The new summer program will be for incoming kindergartners to gain classroom experience they otherwise may not have had prior to the start of the actual school year.

“In the last few years, we’ve identified this as an area of need,” said Lauren Gemmill, assistant superintendent for instruction. “Early intervention is a priority for us and we know it’s beneficial.”

While the exact curriculum is under development, the goal of the voluntary kindergarten readiness will be to give incoming students exposure to pre-literacy skills as well as the opportunity to experience a classroom setting before the school year begins. Students will explore concepts like self-management and self-regulation in addition to other unique classroom features, like a noticeable lack of screen time.

“Some students come to kindergarten having spent a great amount of time during the day in front of screens,” said Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra, Jr. “The stimuli they’re used to reduces drastically once they’re in the classroom.”

All incoming kindergartners undergo professional assessment in the spring. Based on the results of those assessments, officials will offer the summer session to those children who may benefit with a head start in the classroom. Class sizes will be held to around 12 students. At present, two teachers and one assistant are expected to be required, but that may change depending on enrollment.

The prevailing driver is the basic idea that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

“Research tells us that early intervention up front reduces the resources necessary to deal with issues down the road,” said Tangorra. “The immediate result is that we’ll have kids that feel more confident and comfortable entering kindergarten.”

“We want children to transition smoothly into the school year,” said Gemmill. Part of that transition is successfully navigating the classroom and understanding behavioral and academic expectations and norms.

For the last two years, the district has offered a voluntary four-week program to middle school students who need reinforcement in specific academic areas. In the summer of 2015, 26 students participated; in 2016, 34 middle schoolers took part.

Despite the district’s best efforts to make the session short and convenient, attendance was sporadic, most likely owing to summer vacations. Switching focus from middle to early childhood students seemed like a thoughtful and beneficial choice.

“The middle school summer program was never mandated,” said Gemmill. “The program was not credit recovery. These were not students who had failed the sixth grade.”

For middle schoolers and their families who wish to use the summertime for educational enhancement, there will be two options for summer programs: Students may attend the Capital Region BOCES Regional Summer School in Schenectady or a tuition-based option in South Colonie.

The kindergarten readiness program is included in the 2017-2018 budget on which district residents will vote on May 16.