BES Early Childhood Learning programs offer advantages for families

By Roxie Murphy, Assistant Editor
Posted 4/17/24

BELLE —Early Childhood Program evaluations were presented at the March 26 Maries County R-2 Board of Education meeting. At Belle Elementary School (BES), three different classroom curricula …

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BES Early Childhood Learning programs offer advantages for families


BELLE —Early Childhood Program evaluations were presented at the March 26 Maries County R-2 Board of Education meeting. At Belle Elementary School (BES), three different classroom curricula benefit early learning.

Caryl Koch, preschool teacher, introduced her program first.

“Our early childhood program has a multi-age classroom and provides educational opportunities for children between three and five years of age,” she began. “We are a half-day program. The morning session and afternoon sessions can each have 12 students. We feel this grants us the opportunity for a good beginning with 24 families, helping to establish a strong, personal, and positive educational relationship with our school.”

Applicants are enrolled in the program on a first-come, first-serve basis and the program is currently tuition-free.

“Enrollment includes 23 students,” Koch said. “Over the past two years, I’ve participated in the LETRS training on the science of reading offered to elementary teachers. As a result, next year our program will adopt the Heggerty Curriculum for phonemic Awareness. This is at the pre-kindergarten level.”

Koch said she is hoping participation in the program will support the NEE indicator which recommends materials used to support strategies including theory and research-based.

“In September I asked to meet with the kindergarten team of teachers,” Koch said. “I wanted to open a discussion on whether our students were entering kindergarten with foundational skills necessary for success, especially early in the school year. It was a productive meeting, with one teacher reporting our students were on track. It is our goal to help students begin kindergarten at ease in the school setting and educationally prepared.”

Koch said they measure success in a variety of ways, including how students meet learning goals, observe, and gain confidence in their needs and wants in the classroom setting.

“Because we are a multi-age classroom, our students can be in our program for two consecutive years,” she said. “Over the last nine years, we’ve had 100 percent of our students return for a second year.”

As students graduate out of the program, Koch said families continue to seek them out for younger brothers and sisters.

“This is a great indicator of success for us and one I think we enjoy the most,” she said.

Alexandra Bush, early childhood special educator, introduced her program.

“We are getting ready to grow, almost double,” she said. “We have five students enrolled and three more next Tuesday. There are four students advancing to kindergarten, three students, plus one next week will be turning next year.”

Bush said one thing she thinks the program does well is keeping small class sizes.

“It allows us to work one one-on-one with kids to meet them where they are,” she said. “Especially since some of our kids are almost kindergarten ready and some of them come in and are nonverbal. Then we can work with them one at a time and what they need.”

Bush said right now all of her students are working toward meeting their goals. The classroom is full of hands-on learning objects that allow students to learn without realizing it.

“The only thing that I wish we had is a scope-in-sequence so that I knew I wasn’t forgetting anything before kindergarten,” she said. “But we did meet with kindergarten teachers in September to make sure we are getting them as prepared as possible.”

A scope-in-sequence is a type of checklist for learning standards that ensures the teacher has met the goals. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) does not currently provide a scope-in-sequence for early learning classes.

Superintendent Dr. Lenice Basham explained the verbiage and strategy behind it.

“A lot (of teachers) by developmental skills and Missouri Early Learning Standards that don’t have a scope in sequence,” Bush said.

Her goal is to ensure the students meet at least 50 percent of the kindergarten-ready checklist before moving on.

“Knowing that my students are special needs and may not have the capacity to meet all the list, at least they are reaching half of them and all of our students are making progress,” she said. “Overall, I think that our program does a wonderful job of bridging the gap between first steps and three through five, so there is no gap in learning and they don’t make regression between pre-school and kindergarten.

Tamara Lockard was present to introduce the Parents as Teachers Association (PTA) for the 2023-24 school year.

“Every month we try to have a group connection event that puts families with children around the same age together,” she said. “We do have some fun ones coming up for spring and summer.”

PTA currently has 16 families enrolled in the program with 25 students.

“We have two new ones after this event that signed up,” Lockard said. “All of our families are entitled to 12 visits a year, so once a month. Some of our families have special needs children and are entitled to two visits a month.”

In addition to the group connections, they also assist with yearly developmental screens and progress as well as any delays are shared with the parents.

“We believe the parents are the first and most important teachers to their children and we are there to help them, whether with resources or child development knowledge,” she said. “It has been very exciting to be part of this program.”

Lockard added that some parents have the knowledge to be good teachers and some don’t. They are there to assist and help prevent neglect so when the student does come to preschool and kindergarten, they are prepared.

“We have a great team of early childhood educators and great support from our parents already in the program,” she said.