Fulton early childhood program aims to prepare students for learning

A preschool student at Fulton Education Center plays with Play-Doh on Thursday. The Early Childhood Center screens children before entering the school, and cutting with scissors is included in the test.

A preschool student at Fulton Education Center plays with Play-Doh on Thursday. The Early Childhood Center screens children before entering the school, and cutting with scissors is included in the test. Photo by Brittany Ruess.

With the expectations for kindergarten higher than ever, the educators at the Fulton Education Center’s (FEC) preschool program work to prepare their students to meet those standards.

The FEC is home to Fulton’s early intervention preschool and early intervention special education preschool, where Director Jennifer Meyerhoff said they work on “getting (the students) ready for kindergarten, helping them to be successful in school later on in life.”

“The rigor in kindergarten has increased in the last several years,” Meyerhoff said. “We do what we can to get them all started on as level a playing field as possible, give every kid the chance to be successful.”

Teacher Trish Brandt agreed that “the biggest thing we’re doing is bridging the gap to prepare (the students) for kindergarten.”

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Fulton Education Center students hug during a rehearsal for “The Three Piggy Opera” on Thursday.

Brandt said the early intervention preschool teachers — all of whom, she noted, are certified educators, unlike some preschool programs — work with their students to develop social, emotional, motor and language skills and establishing a routine.

Meyerhoff said the program utilizes a set curriculum that provides students with structure and gets them used to the routine of a school day. She noted the school also uses the Positive Behavior Support program utilized in rest of the schools in the district.

Brandt said each day is broken into 30-minute segments during which they do small group activities like story telling and puzzles, calendar time which focuses on things like counting; centers time where the children work on individual tasks; snack time and recess.

Students go on field trips, hold an annual Thanksgiving feast, have special visitor days, make jet packs and learn about being astronauts for a day, have red tasting parties on Valentine’s Day to learn lessons about different foods and currently are memorizing their parts for the “Three Piggy Opera.”

They learn things like how to count and how to recognize letters. There also is a reading book bag program in which students take home a book to read with their parents each week, as well as a journal to write about the book.

“Kids are expected to come into kindergarten knowing so much more than in the past,” Brandt said. “We provide them with structure and getting their pathways open for learning, so they have a good start.”

One key to achieving all of those things, she said, is family involvement through activities like the reading book bags and visitor days.

“We have a lot of opportunities for parents to be involved,” Brandt said. “It helps students to see their families get involved and know how important education is when they see their families involved with their education.”

The Fulton Education Center has two early intervention preschool classrooms and two early intervention special education preschool classrooms. There are two three-hour sessions serving a total of 40 students each year — 10 per class. The program is open to children ages 4 or 5 in the year before they are eligible for kindergarten.

There are monthly screenings for entry into the program, testing children who are 3 or 4 years old the year prior to when they would attend the preschool. Meyerhoff said the test, conducted by the district’s Parents As Teachers program, looks at things like motor skills, concepts and language, the ability to write their name and copy symbols and sentence use.

“It’s a very thorough test,” Meyerhoff said, noting the district would like to see more families bringing their children to the screenings.

“There’s a misconception that they have to be special needs or low performing, and that’s just not true,” she said.

The Fulton Education Center follows the same calendar as the rest of Fulton Public Schools, but screenings will resume in September.

For more information about the early intervention preschool programs or to get your child signed up for a screening, contact the FEC at (573) 590-8050.

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