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Willmar pre-K classes moving to elementary schools

Briana Sanchez / Tribune file photo Preschool teacher Meghan Reiman lead her class through an activity at a prekindergarten class at Jefferson Learning Center in January 2017. This fall, pre-K classes will move to the Willmar School District's elementary schools.1 / 5
Briana Sanchez / Tribune file photo Preschooler Henry Duininck, left, and special education teacher Chris Eckhoff participate in a prekindergarten class at Jefferson Learning Center in January 2017. Pre-K classes will be moving to the Willmar School District's elementary schools this fall.2 / 5
Briana Sanchez / Tribune file photo Preschool teacher Meghan Reiman reads to her class at Jefferson Learning Center in January 2017. The Willmar School District's prekindergarten classes are leaving Jefferson and moving to the three elementary schools this fall.3 / 5
Briana Sanchez / Tribune file photo Preschoolers Mushtaq Abi, from left, Gavin Wilcox and Sumaya Kalif look at animal pictures during an activity in a prekindergarten class at Willmar's Jefferson Learning Center in January 2017. The Willmar School District's pre-K classes are leaving Jefferson and moving to the three elementary schools this fall.4 / 5
Briana Sanchez / Tribune file photo Preschoolers Gavin Wilcox, left, and Hayley Chouanard, look at books before reading time in Meghan Reiman's class at Jefferson Learning Center in January 2017. Prekindergarten classes will be moving to the Willmar School District's three elementary schools this fall.5 / 5

WILLMAR — Prekindergarten classes for 4-year-olds will move to Willmar's three elementary schools this fall.

The move is one more step in the reorganization that started when Willmar Public Schools opened the new Lakeland Elementary School in January.

Opening Lakeland eased overcrowding at Kennedy and Roosevelt elementary schools. Lakeland was designed with pre-K rooms, and the other two now have enough room to house those classes, too.

The program will be similar to the one held in the past at Jefferson Learning Center, said Jodi Wambeke, the district's early childhood coordinator.

Jefferson will continue to have classes in Early Childhood Family Education and Early Childhood Special Education, as well as school readiness and other services for young children. The building is also the site of the district Adult Basic Education classes.

Each of the three elementary schools will have two pre-K classrooms, each with morning and afternoon sessions with a maximum of 16 students in each session. Roosevelt's classes are full, but Lakeland and Kennedy still have room for more children.

Morning classes will run Monday through Friday, and afternoon classes will be Monday through Thursday. Students will be fed breakfast or an afternoon snack. Those who are taking advantage of school-based child care will also eat lunch.

State funding for voluntary pre-K programs was approved by the 2016 Legislature. Willmar received funding in the program's first year, and the Legislature has increased the money available since then.

The state money does not cover classes for all 4-year-olds, however, as it is intended to be one part of an overall system that prepares children for kindergarten.

The community has a network of child care providers and child care centers, along with family, friends and neighbors who care for children. Families are able to choose the setting they think is right for their children, Wambeke said.

"We need all of them," she said. "We want to make sure every little kiddo is getting a quality education."

In recent years, staff has worked to develop coordinated curriculum from pre-K through grade 3.

"We're excited to be in the elementary buildings to better align (curriculum) with kindergarten," Wambeke said.

"We continue to work on that," she said. "I think it's a little easier when we're in the same space."

Principals are preparing to have these younger students in their buildings.

Lakeland Elementary had one section of 4-year-olds in the building last school year. "It feels natural," said Principal Gretchen Baumgarn.

Being in the school buildings can help kids adjust to being around bigger kids and to how school works, she said.

The school's playground, gym and cafeteria have room for the younger children, she said, and it's good for the older children to have them there.

Last school year, some older students were invited to the pre-K room to read to the younger kids, she said, and she expects those things to continue.

Wambeke said Jefferson will be much quieter with the pre-K classes moving out, and she'll miss the activity. The summer has been spent sorting through a 20-year collection of toys and teaching materials to be distributed to the new classrooms.

"We are excited to be in all the buildings," she said. "I think it's a good thing for the kids and the buildings."

For information about registration, contact the school district at 320-231-8500 or registration@willmar.k12.mn.us.

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

(320) 214-4340
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