SHERIDAN — As the educational climate of the United States continually evolves to keep up with a progressively challenging world marketplace, benchmarks in learning are pushed higher and more is expected out of youth at every grade level.
Though much focus has been put on the testing systems or minimum standards older children are subjected to, there has been a shift in recent years in kindergarten classes as well.
The days of warm milk and curling up with a blanket for kindergarten nap time are over and now, according to Sheridan County School District 2 Director of Elementary Education Scott Stults, there is little difference between kindergarten and first grade other than the youngers leave an hour earlier.
“We’ve increased expectations, but I don’t believe unrealistically, and the kids have risen to those expectations,” he said.
With studies increasingly showing education is needed at a younger age, kindergarten classes have become more academically challenging. In addition, because young children can drastically vary in their ability levels, screening systems have been developed to determine if the advanced pace of the class is suitable for each child.
Screenings for the Sheridan County school districts occur primarily in the spring, but SCSD2, having more students to screen, also offers a second session by appointment only. Those screenings are available now through Aug. 8, and school district officials said they hope that all parents of incoming kindergarteners understand the importance of the process and attend.
Screenings are not required and some parents opt to enroll early or show up on the first day of school without attending a screening, but that course of action is not recommended.
“We strongly encourage, and really need the information that comes from, kindergarten screenings, because it helps the principal and teacher prepare for the year and the students’ needs,” Stults said. “Anyone that has not been screened, we ask that they call the district office to set up a time to do so.”
The 30-minute screening consists of a one-on-one interview of sorts between the future student and a kindergarten teacher, asking them questions and having them perform activities like building with blocks and writing their name.
During the spring session of SCSD2 screenings, two days are set aside for students to gather in the gymnasium en masse to complete the screening as well as eyesight, hearing and dental checks — all in one stop.
For those that attend a private session, the eyesight and hearing checks will be performed by the school nurses after the school year begins.
There are multiple purposes behind the screening and multiple results that can come from it.
To be eligible to enroll in kindergarten a child must be 5 years old on or before Sept. 15. This means there is a possibility for very young 5-year-olds and also 6-year-old children to be in the same class.
Stults says other variations in the students’ readiness are not necessarily mental aptitudes but rather come from being socially immature.
“Some children have not been exposed to academia types things,” he said. “Those kids just aren’t ready for kindergarten and that’s OK. We just give them more time to get ready.”
Some parents of young 5-year-old children may opt to have their kid attend another year of preschool before moving on and others utilize the option of “classic kindergarten.”
Classic kindergarten is a course offered at Sagebrush Elementary, Coffeen Elementary, Woodland Park Elementary and Sheridan County School District 1 schools.
The curriculum of the class is primarily the same as that of kindergarten, just taught at a slower pace with fewer students to allow more transition time and one-on-one help.
“The assessment provides us with information and we’ll make a recommendation to the parent based on it and then they can take that information and make the best decision for their child,” Stults said.
Some misconceptions stem from the classic kindergarten course including that putting a student in the course means they somehow failed.
This fallacy may in some ways be furthered by some local preschools advertising that 100 percent of their preschool graduates “pass” the kindergarten readiness test.
“I want the point to be stressed that students do not pass or fail. That’s the whole myth we want to move away from and I don’t want that message to be sent to parents,” Stults said. “I try to call the parents and say, ‘I have great news; your child qualified for classic kindergarten’ and some parents are excited and say ‘let’s do what is best for my child’ but some do object and feel like they’ve failed.”
Stults said he wants to stress to parents the screening is for informational purposes only and that there is nothing to fear.
“There used to be fear in other communities that they felt like their child had to study to not fail it, even to the point where in one community they had a security issue where people were getting ahold of the actual assessment itself and having their child study it,” he said. “It got a little out of hand and we want the parents to understand that this is not a high stakes assessment. It’s a relaxed, inviting, good experience. We just want to get to know them a little bit.”
To make an appointment with SCSD2 call 674-7405 ext. 5105 between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. no later than Aug. 8.
Registration for kindergarten can be done at the screening and parents intending to register will need to bring a birth certificate and immunization records.