FLANDREAU, S.D. – Kindergarten has traditionally been viewed as a year to prepare students for school. For many years, it consisted mostly of playing, singing, social interaction and practical activities such as drawing or painting.
But Flandreau Elementary Principal Jay Swatek says that is no longer the case.
“Kindergarten is now considered an essential part of a child’s academic career,” Swatek said. “Ideally, the foundation for learning is now developed in preschool or head start, before the student reaches kindergarten.”
Some youth in the Flandreau Public School District are turning to the Flandreau Ready to Start Program to develop those crucial soft skills.
“We’ve graduated 46 pre-K students since 2015,” said Swatek. “The program has been a tremendous success thus far.”
Shaping a successful start to schooling
Flandreau Ready to Start is a three-week program consisting of four half-days each week. Instruction is targeted on skills identified as critical by kindergarten teachers.
“Students gain an understanding of appropriate behavior and expectations of a structured classroom setting,” Swatek said. “They learn and practice book handling, letter, sound and number recognition, social skills, and writing and fine motor skills such as cutting, gluing and pencil holding. The curriculum is designed to boost their proficiencies and ensure a successful first year of school.”
In its first three years, the program has had an average class size of 15 students, but Swatek says there is room for 20. With one teacher and two assistant teachers, students are sure to gain from one-on-one attention.
“I’ve observed the class in the past, and I’ve watched students work together with their classmates and teachers, and create positive relationships,” he said. “Those relationships likely ease anxiety they might have experienced at the beginning of kindergarten, when a larger student body is present.”
Attendance key to student success
Like any educational program, regular attendance is critical for children enrolled in Ready to Start to achieve success.
Swatek says the school district has taken steps to address this potential issue.
“Transportation is provided to and from the program at no extra cost,” he said. “It’s extremely important students have consistent attendance in order to get the most out of the program.”
Ready to Start utilizes two vans for pick-up and drop-off, driven by the assistant teachers, and booster seats are available if needed.
Program made possible by Interlakes Area United Way
Since its inception, Flandreau Ready to Start has been completely funded by Interlakes Area United Way.
“Flandreau Elementary has no other funding sources for this program,” Swatek said. “Without United Way, this program could not operate.”
Interlakes Area United Way (IAUW) is a non-profit organization that coordinates financial and volunteer resources for non-profit agencies in Moody, Lake and Miner Counties in South Dakota. Their goal is to create long-lasting changes by focusing on the building blocks for a good life: education, income and health.
IAUW awarded over $93,000 in funding in 2018 to 38 agencies in the three-county region.
Flandreau Ready to Start earned $3,856 for its 2018 program. The money helps pay for teacher, assistant teacher and advisor compensation as well as student transportation.
“All parents want their children to be successful in school, and programs like Flandreau Ready to Start help make that goal attainable,” said IAUW President Lori Gustaf. “We are happy to provide support to this program and help lay the foundation for lifelong learning.”
Building for future development, success
The upcoming program will provide services to children who are age-eligible for kindergarten for the 2018-2019 school year. The school works closely with Moody County Public Health Office as well as local pre-school and daycare programs to locate potential students.
“We focus on youth who have not had access to pre-K services, or who have demonstrated a need for additional services, but it may not be financially feasible,” Swatek said.
Ultimately, the goal is to provide a quality pre-Kindergarten experience that will create long-term positive effects.
“Students who complete Ready to Start are more ready to learn, which can translate to better grades throughout elementary and middle school,” he said. “This can lead to a high school diploma and possibly higher education.”
Of course, the benefits are not limited to just the students enrolled.
“Ultimately, we hope they will gain a lifelong love for learning, and go on to contribute towards classroom environments that help their classmates succeed as well.”
Flandreau Ready to Start offers free enrollment to qualifying students. Interested parties should contact the Flandreau Elementary School at 605-997-2780.