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Chinook's Edge expands pre-kindergarten program

Chinook's Edge School Division trustees passed a motion at their Feb. 9 meeting to expand the division's pre-kindergarten program to a maximum of five schools throughout the division for the 2011-12 school year.

Chinook's Edge School Division trustees passed a motion at their Feb. 9 meeting to expand the division's pre-kindergarten program to a maximum of five schools throughout the division for the 2011-12 school year.Many of the children that enter the program have some type of developmental delay, allowing them to have access to a variety of speech and occupational therapists and other professionals that they wouldn't have access to in a community-based program.The division already has a pilot project for pre-kindergarten at Ecole Steffie Woima School in Sylvan Lake and at Ecole Olds Elementary School. It is the last year of a three-year pilot project at those schools.Many trustees spoke in favour of the program, saying it improves student success in later years.ìWe're going to lose if we don't support this,î said Connie Huelsman, Ward 5 trustee for Bowden/Spruce View.ìIt's a very excellent program. I would like to get the whole ball of wax here (however),î said Ron Fisher, Ward 6 Sundre trustee, noting that he would like to know the costs of the initiative and how many students across the division would participate in it.Sherry Cooper, trustee for Ward 2 Penhold/Poplar Ridge/River Glen, said she was reluctant to approve the program without knowing how much funding would be needed to support it.ìI just want to make sure that we're funding (kindergarten to Grade 12 adequately),î she said, noting that in principle, the pre-kindergarten program is a good one.The pre-kindergarten program in both Olds and Sylvan Lake is funded by Alberta Education through special grant funding for learning disabled students. While costs of the program fluctuate year-over-year, about $90,000 covers the expenses for one school.Heather Dennill, director of instruction for CESD, said the pilot project is one of many early intervention programs the division has developed over the years with assistance from Alberta Education, including Leap to Literacy programs and the Early Development Index.ìThose kinds of early interventions really make a difference in their neural development and their readiness to learn,î Dennill said.The results, said Ray Hoppins, principal of OES, have been excellent.ìWhat we see is a pattern of children being better prepared for kindergarten and we also see that those students require fewer additional supports later on in kindergarten and Grade 1,î he said.Hoppins added that although many children in pre-kindergarten need help to overcome specific challenges, in many other ways they have strengths of their own.ìIt's important not to paint the picture that these children are without strengths,î he said.Hoppins said there are many good pre-kindergarten community programs that parents of children without delays can access ó and often do. He said because the cultural expectation is that all children aged five should be in kindergarten, programs are needed to help those children who require a little extra assistance.ìBut when it comes to services such as occupational therapy, speech therapy, those are sometimes harder to access for parents. Our pre-kindergarten program, I guess, is just an excellent gateway for some of those extra services that can really help kids get ready for kindergarten,î he said.Dennill said the literature generally supports what CESD is doing. In a study out of Texas, for every dollar spent on early intervention, $3.50 is saved in later costs associated with those children.ìThe savings to the system as a result of having early intervention ó in such a targeted and specialized way ó has really made a difference for these children as learners and in their ability to be successful as learners,î she said.Pre-kindergarten is open to children three-and-one-half years to five years old as of September in the year they will be registered. Children with mild, moderate or more severe delays may be registered at the lower end of the age range.