ST PETER — It was VIP day in Erin Stueber’s classroom.
Soon, special guests would be coming to class — folks who were pretty important to the dozen 5-year-olds sitting so calmly in a circle listening to Stueber’s rundown of the planned activities.
“We’re going to do some fun things during circle time,” she said. “And we’re going to practice some songs for our very important person who is coming.”
Each of the children in Stueber’s K Ready class, held at First Lutheran Church in St. Peter, got to invite a grandparent or other VIP person to take part in that morning’s activities, adding a little extra excitement to an already action-packed, five-day-per-week curriculum.
“Well, guys, I think it will be a fun day,” Stueber said.
K Ready is a pilot program this year in the St. Peter school district that grew out of the early childhood professional learning community — a group of Head Start, day care and district early childhood teachers, among other professionals, who collaborate and discuss issues to ensure every child is ready for kindergarten.
The group found that some “just 5” students, especially those who turn 5 in late spring or summer, aren’t quite ready for kindergarten, said Ytive Prafke, special programs administrator for St. Peter Public Schools. While they are technically the right age, developmentally they would benefit from another year of pre-school before kindergarten, she said.
K Ready addresses the needs of that group, and those needs are diverse, Prafke said.
“It runs the whole gamut,” she said, adding a couple of examples. “Are you ready to sit? Are you ready to follow directions?”
Prafke said kindergarten expectations have increased over the years, having gone from art projects and songs to include academics. The goals for children entering kindergarten are to have strong literacy, numeracy and social skills, she said.
“When we turned 5, we went to kindergarten,” Prafke said. “Now, society is waiting.”
While typical pre-school classes are held three days per week, K Ready is held every weekday for the entire school year for 2 1/2 hours in the mornings.
The program — funded in part by a $10,000 grant from Nicollet County Collaborative to offset costs — uses the Houghton Mifflin Splash into Pre-K curriculum, which is aligned to kindergarten curriculum. That way, when the students enter kindergarten, they will have had a taste of the skills they will be expected to master, Prafke said.
Stueber said she focuses on structured activities, academic-based games and incorporates literacy work into many facets of the class, which began in September.
“With this age, I’ve already seen a lot of growth,” Stueber said.
Pre-school teachers help identify students who would benefit from K Ready and then give information about the program to the parents, Prafke said. Enrollment is optional, she said; parents can choose to send their kids to kindergarten.
“We all want what’s best for your child,” she said. “And here’s another option for you.”
So far, 14 students are enrolled.
Prafke said many parents reported sending their “just 5” children to kindergarten because of the need for an all-day program to address the need for day care. The goal was to have K Ready be an all-day program, but due to the added cost, so far it’s just for half a day.
The goal in future years is to pair K Ready with a child care program to provide a full day of services for parents who need it, Prafke said.
Stueber said she’s enjoying her new role as the K Ready teacher, having taught pre-school last year in St. Peter. Stueber also taught kindergarten in Le Center, putting her in a unique position as the teacher of the new program.
“I feel like I know where they’re coming from and where they need to go,” Stueber said.