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Kindergarten becomes more complicated for the Common Core

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Kindergarten is more than just learning to recite the alphabet.

According to handful of kindergarten teachers from all over the Watertown City School District who spoke at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting, the youngest pupils are learning bigger words at a faster pace and using technology on a regular basis.

The Common Core Curriculum education standards implemented at the beginning of the school year are forcing teachers to tweak their lesson plans.

“I’m enjoying the new program,” Starbuck Elementary teacher Julie A. Valvo said after the meeting. “I see a lot of learning and success taking place.”

She said there is more collaboration between teachers than before. Teachers work together on weeknights to prepare lesson plans that include phonics, high-frequency words and sentence structure.

Although kindergarten is not mandatory in the state, all elementary schools in the area offer it, according to Dawn D. Ludovici, Jefferson-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services assistant superintendent. Public elementary schools in Watertown have offered full-day kindergarten since the late 1980s, and teaching 5- and 6-year-olds has changed since then.

“Some of the words we’re introducing in kindergarten are more advanced than I ever thought we’d use, and they’re handling it well,” Ohio Elementary teacher Bridgette C. Keenan said. “The other thing I see a huge difference with is handwriting because of the practice pages.”

At the beginning of the meeting, teachers shared their English language arts daily routines. The day often starts with an oral language slide on the Smartboard, where children discuss a photo of an animal or a situation.

Mrs. Valvo showed board members how pupils are asked to underline their new vocabulary words presented in a short poem on the Smartboard. When they learn a new letter, such as “f,” they underline words that begin with the sound the letter makes.

“They love coming up to the Smartboard,” she said. “They love being interactive.”

North Elementary teacher Katie L. Rivers said children often are grouped according to reading level in the afternoon to read slightly different versions of the same book.

“It’s so they don’t become frustrated,” she said. “It’s kindergarten, and we want to instill lifelong reading skills.”

Children are tested more than ever this year, Mrs. Valvo said, with weekly, unit and benchmark tests.

Although teachers will be graded at the end of the year as a part of the new state standards, they are pushing pupils harder so they can do well on state tests later on. The Regents exams will be more difficult as part of the effort to make students more college- and career-ready statewide.

“If we don’t start pushing in kindergarten, they’ll never be ready for the state assessment,” Starbuck Principal Sandra K. Cain said.

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