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Preschool Provides Preview of the ABCs of Kindergarten


At one table, Anthony Gonzales works to master a new contraption: scissors. At another, Oscar Guerrero learns what happens when you mix black and yellow watercolors.

Across the room, Tyrelle Jones discovers that yelling "Me! Me!" won't get him called on any faster.

These are lessons Anthony, Oscar, Tyrelle and about 350 other 4- and 5-year-olds in Port Hueneme otherwise would have been lacking when they enter kindergarten this fall. But they are getting their first preschool experience this summer, in a new four-week program offered at eight schools in the Hueneme Elementary School District.

Funded with about $50,000 in Proposition 10 tobacco tax money, the program ties into efforts across California to boost the availability of free early childhood education for public school children.

Although research has shown that preschool can lead to greater academic achievement and fewer social problems later in life, there remains a serious shortage of public preschool slots--in Ventura County and statewide.

"There are a lot of waiting lists--you just can't get in," said Cynthia Sanchez, one of two teachers running the preschool program at Hueneme Elementary. "They end up at home with their moms, watching TV, with no academics."

The children were recruited into the summer program as their parents signed them up for kindergarten.

Educators hope the preschool sessions, also being offered in some Oxnard schools, will help bridge the learning gap among children entering school with different levels of experience.

"Now they're not going to be six months behind a youngster who has already gone to preschool," said Deloris Carn, who coordinates Hueneme's Neighborhoods for Learning program, one of 11 in the county. "It will also give them the edge on the distractions that come from not wanting to separate from parents, or because they have never been in a classroom before."

Progress was already evident in Kathy Riley's classroom last week.

Cynthia Huerta, 5, cried nonstop through the first three days of class, Riley said. By Thursday, though, she was smiling, giggling and bouncing from workstation to workstation.

Four-year-old Kwian Landers had his teary face buried in his T-shirt for the first 30 minutes of Thursday's class.

Slowly, he started to peek out from under his floppy brown curls. By the end of the two-hour day, he was happily making pig and cow noises as he and his classmates sang "Old MacDonald."

"The gift here is that this is happening now," Riley said. "Normally it takes away from academic instruction in kindergarten."

Gone are the days when kindergarten consisted mostly of playtime, she said. Children now must master much tougher tasks, including counting to 100 and learning early reading skills.

The summer curriculum aims to teach children basic socialization, self-help, academic and fine-motor skills.

In one exercise, students created a construction-paper portrait of themselves with a tissue pasted over the nose. The lesson: Cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze or cough so you don't spread germs.

Parent involvement is crucial. The program requires parents to attend a four-hour training workshop, where they learn the importance of reading to their children at home and are given materials for at-home academic activities.

Parents and guardians are then asked to help as much as they can in the classroom--leading workstation activities and helping the teacher supervise the children.

Frances Woolston, whose 4-year-old granddaughter, Erin, is in the program, helped in Riley's room Thursday.

Woolston called the summer preschool opportunity a blessing. Erin has a learning disability that makes transitions to new things more difficult, she said.

"We are so thankful to have this," she said. "She needs anything that will get her more comfortable in the classroom setting."

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