School tour puts focus on early literacy

Facility teaches ages 4-5 skills to foster reading

Possible model for system

Two more similar centers could be built in county

Ferndale

October 22, 2003|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

School and elected officials visited yesterday the first school in Anne Arundel County to serve 4- and 5-year-olds exclusively - one of several options the county is considering as it embarks on the expensive venture of building new classroom space to provide all-day kindergarten by 2007.

Superintendent Eric J. Smith used the tour of the Ferndale facility as an opportunity to show off the county's new emphasis on literacy preparedness before the first grade.

At its meeting tonight, the school board will review a study that says the county should consider building two more such regional schools to comply with a state directive for all-day kindergarten in every county. The study says the county's share of the all-day kindergarten initiative could total $73 million, but school officials said they plan to pare down that figure.

The board tonight also is expected to vote on a name for the prekindergarten-kindergarten center, which opened in August on the site of the old Ferndale Elementary School. It currently has a prekindergarten class and two kindergarten classes, and will be expanded in coming years to serve pupils from three elementary schools.

Smith said he favors keeping 4- and 5-year-olds in separate schools from older pupils, although Anne Arundel cannot afford to do it countywide. Teaching such young children "requires a special kind of focus and attention," he said.

Principal Pat Barton said the Ferndale school's 63 pupils are thriving under the arrangement. "Everything is about them," she said.

Smith, who spent more than an hour at the facility, emerged from the prekindergarten class with a broad smile on his face.

"You can see the readiness of these kids," he said, ticking off the things he had noticed the 4-year-olds doing: naming letters, following words on a printed page with their eyes, knowing how to find the beginning and end of a sentence.

As part of Smith's effort to reduce the number of children who get to middle- and high school without knowing how to read proficiently, teachers at the Ferndale school and elsewhere in the county began using a literacy program this year that Smith helped develop as the head of Charlotte, N.C., schools.

Called Bright Beginnings, it differs from traditional programs for young children because it focuses on teaching language and reading, rather than on social and behavioral skills, Smith said.

Parents Daniel Moore and Angel Brezezenski, said their son Bradley, 5, is learning more in kindergarten at the Ferndale school than they expected. "It's a lot of learning," Brezezenski said. "I thought it was going to be more play time."

There's no nap time - although children are permitted to rest if they want to - and all activities are geared toward instruction. When children are given tractors to play with, the underlying motive is to reinforce the book about farms that they've been learning to read as a class.

"What's beautiful is they're having a good time," board member Tricia Johnson said. "They don't even have a clue they're learning."

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