Beginning in September, St. Kevin School will be taking a new approach to teaching their youngest students through the Early Learning Academy, a program that integrates and socializes students with children a grade or two ahead of them so they can learn at higher levels if they are excelling in certain subjects, primarily reading and math.
While the middle school has already implemented a similar program, this will be fresh for children in pre-school, kindergarteners, as well as first and second graders.
“It’s to provide continuity and flexibility, meaning that if I have a student that’s reading at a second grade level, that student can go to kindergarten or the first grade for reading,” said preschool teacher Maria Modelane, the executive director for the Early Learning Academy within the school. “It’s a way for us to work with them at their level so we can push them ahead.”
Additionally, the school has been divided into three teams, one that consists of pre-K, kindergarten, first and second grade; another consists of third, fourth and fifth grades, and a final group of sixth, seventh and eighth grade. This is for teachers to better understand the needs of their students and appropriately mix them with older grades.
“It’s basically three schools within a school,” said Modelane.
For Modelane, as well as second grade teacher Mary Ann McKenney, who serves on the Early Learning Academy committee, the program improves staff morale and gives teachers the opportunity to work more as a group. On a weekly basis, they discuss student strengths and struggles and create lesson plans together.
McKenney said students will benefit immensely from the program, as well. She feels it motivates and empowers them.
“It’s good for their self-esteem,” she said. “As teachers, our goal is to find their strengths and build on that. We know they are not going to be strong across the board. They are not aware of the age differences they just see it as someone they can work with.”
Currently, St. Kevin’s encourage children from younger grades to pair up with students from the upper grades for math and reading. However, it only takes place for one period on Thursdays.
But, there are even more changes to come. Pre-K will soon be learning foreign languages, making them more aware of other cultures. Sign language will also be incorporated mainly to focus on learning letters, numbers and songs.
“The best time to expose them to multiple languages is when they are at a young age,” McKenney said. “They are much more able and receptive. For children who might not want to express themselves verbally they are able to through sign language. Studies have shown that it enables children to advance quicker than through your typical language arts programs.”
Also, the school is enlarging its pre-kindergarten and expanding available hours. Come September, classes for three-year-olds will be offered two, three, four and five times per week for both half-day and full-day sessions. Half-days begin at 8:45 a.m. and conclude at 11:45 a.m., while full-days start at the same time and wrap up at 3 p.m.
Moreover, before-school-care for three- and four-year-olds will commence a half-hour earlier at 7 a.m. There is no charge for this service.
They also have a muscle room with motor equipment compatible with every grade level. However, it’s primarily for early childhood.
“If there is a child that is very stressed and needs to blow off some steam they can go and bounce a ball or jump around,” said Modelane.
“It’s all about recognizing the needs of students,” McKenney said. “For some students, sitting in a room all day long is just too difficult for them and we know that. We want to have something in place that will meet those needs.”
If that’s not enough, they have improved student access to technology with the addition of a computer lab, which consists of five workstations attached to four computers, allowing 20 students to work side-by-side.
Students from Bishop Hendricken High School’s Technology Academy, along with Computer Science teacher Mike Benedetto, volunteered their time to install the equipment. As of now, at least one computer is in each classroom and the building has newly acquired wireless capabilities.
“Now that we’re wireless, I purchased a program on my iPad for the children,” said McKenney. “It gives us more tools for them to use.”
Among the students from Hendricken were senior Gardner Vickers, juniors Jackie Thompson and James Kent, as well as sophomore Christopher Duxbury.
Hendricken also installed equipment at St. Rose of Lima School last year. They included Vickers, Thompson and Kent, plus junior Masyn Szeliga.
Benedetto said he’s happy his students are implementing their skills while helping local schools save money. In fact, St. Kevin Principal Roger Parent said their efforts saved his school several thousand dollars. In total, they have spent $7,000 on improvements, which were calculated into the yearly budget. Further, he’s excited about the Early Learning Academy.
“It’s a new concept for us and the teachers have been great,” Parent said. “Everyone is on board, but that’s the kind of staff we have here. It’s more of a community.”
In order for the public to learn more about the Early Learning Academy at St. Kevin, the school will be hosting open houses the week of April 23-27 from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.; April 25 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.; as well as June 10 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. To learn more about tuition prices, contact the school at 737-7172.