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Willmar, Minn., schools looking for sense of solidarity

WILLMAR — The Willmar School Board wants to see more communications between the school district’s early childhood education programs and its elementary schools.

Early childhood educators gave an update on their pre-school literacy efforts at a School Board workshop on Monday.

They talked about efforts to help kids develop social and emotional skills and a developing rating system to help parents choose the right pre-school program for their children.

A pre-school literacy program aided by the Minnesota Reading Corps was another topic. Willmar is a pilot site for the program this year, which will be available statewide next year.

“We’re excited about having data to share,” said Jodi Wambeke.

Early childhood programs don’t always generate a lot of data, she said, but this program collects data and can lead to tailored instruction for children who need it.

Steve Brisendine, director of Willmar Community Education and Recreation, said the data should help his department make future decisions about pre-school classes.

The literacy program work on rhyming, letter names, picture naming, alliteration and letter sounds.

Classes reinforce some of the concepts through the use of songs. They sing when they are lining up for a restroom break or moving from one activity to another, said Ann Trochlil, another pre-school educator.

The singing adds to the instructional time students receive, Brisendine said. Over the course of a school year, the brief songs could add hours to the time spent reinforcing the literacy concepts, he added.

Children need to know 10,000 to 12,000 words to be successful readers, Wambeke said.

Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard asked how a child gets to 12,000 words.

Parents read to them and ask questions, Trochlil said. “Strive for a conversation that goes back and forth five times.”

Wambeke talked about the program’s mission of preparing children for the rigors of kindergarten and the need to know what kindergarten teachers are looking for.

Board member Mike Carlson, who recently was on the board in the last decade and recently returned after two years out of office, said he was frustrated to hear that it isn’t happening.

Carlson said he participated in the Early Childhood Initiative during his last stint on the board, and the same issue was discussed 10 years ago.

Wambeke said that the work started but then was disrupted over the years with changes in staff and administration. It can be difficult to hold meetings when the elementary staff is full-time and the pre-school staff is part-time, she said.

“We have all sorts of information to share, it’s just figuring out what they want,” she said.

Board Chairman Nathan Streed asked Kjergaard to work with administrators to develop a plan to improve the communication between pre-school and elementary programs.

“I understsand we’re not going to do it overnight, but there should be a report back within a couple months,” he said.

“I don’t think we’re that far away,” Carlson said. “There’s been a lot of groundwork on this.”

Carlson said he would like to see early childhood classes integrated into elementary schools.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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