HOUSTON — Sen. Matt Huffman, R-Lima, 12th District, made a trip to the Hardin-Houston Local School District on Thursday, April 18, during which he learned more about a unique aspect of the school’s curriculum.
Huffman had the opportunity to join in on a portion of the school’s Young Fives pre-kindergarten class.
Led by teacher Jill Burks, the Young Fives program at Hardin-Houston aims to ready students — typically those born within the spring or summer months — for kindergarten. These students may qualify for enrollment into kindergarten in that they are five years old on or before Aug. 1, but may lack some of the critical social or learning skills necessary for optimal educational success when compared to the older children in the same age group.
This is simply due to the degree to which children develop in just a matter of months — those entering kindergarten who turned five in December of the previous year will have as much as eight more months to prepare for kindergarten than a child turning five in July, just prior to the beginning of the school year.
“This class serves as a bridge between the third year, or second, of preschool and kindergarten,” said Superintendent Larry Claypool. “This is a full year, but is a special, blended curriculum that helps get those kids up to speed so that when we do our kindergarten screening next year for them, when they’re six, they’ll be at the top of the class when they go in.”
Huffman was introduced to the Young Fives class, which has a total of 13 students, and received a warm, “Good morning, Senator Huffman,” in return.
“These kids have been working really hard this year to learn, and they’re pretty excited that you’re here and they can show you what they’ve been learning,” said Burks, who has been at the forefront of the program since its inception in the district three years ago.
Burks invited Huffman to lead a game of alphabet Bingo.
“You’ll just show them a card, they’ll answer and say what the letter is and the sound it makes,” Burks said. “Then you’ll slide it up under the document camera, so it shows on the screen and they can find the letter on their board.”
“Okay,” Huffman said. “Even a senator can’t mess that up.”
In addition to spending time with the students, Huffman sat down with Burks, along with Claypool and elementary Principal Sara Roseberry, to talk more about the Young Fives program and its role in the school district.
“(The Young Fives program) is really nice because most of the kids come to us not knowing any letter names or letter sounds and they’re not ready behaviorally to sit still or tend to task, so when they enter kindergarten the next year, they’re beginning readers, writers, and leaders of their class,” Roseberry said.
As for the program’s curriculum, Claypool said it has been created in-house and, given the unique purpose of the program, does not adhere to a strict national standard.
“We took a blend of the kindergarten standards and the preschool standards and (Burks) devised a curriculum based around those standards,” Roseberry said. “We start out with preschool standards and move slowly into the kindergarten standards.”
Burks gave Huffman a breakdown of what the Young Fives curriculum looks like, detailing the educational goals set for the students during each nine weeks of the school year.
“I just think it’s really leveling out the playing field for these kids,” Burks said. “By the time they go to kindergarten, they’re better prepared than they would’ve been without the program.”
Burks added that she sees the Young Fives program as “giving the gift of time” to the students.
“This is really fundamental stuff,” Huffman said. “It’s fantastic, especially the flexibility, and (Hardin-Houston) obviously has someone who is experienced and knows what they’re doing.”
Huffman wrapped up his visit to Houston with a meeting of his “12th Senate district working group,” comprised of superintendents throughout the district, which convened in the Hardin-Houston board room.
“There are 44 school districts in the 12th Senate District and my first meeting in Minster two years ago was with nearly all the superintendents of those schools,” Huffman said. “The superintendents I’m meeting with today are sort of the executive committee, or working group, and they’re from St. Henry, Coldwater, Minster, Waynesfield, and the Mercer County ESC.”
The group has been preparing a follow-up bill to Senate Bill 216, also known as the “public school deregulation act,” which was signed into law by former Governor John Kasich last year.
The intent of Senate Bill 216 is to reduce regulations and mandates for local schools to increase local control, improve efficiency, and reduce costs, while still supporting improved student achievement.
“This group started off drafting Senate Bill 216 two years ago and we passed it, but a lot of the things we wanted got stripped out of it for one reason or another, so we’re on the final stages of the ‘2.0 version,’” Huffman said.
Huffman said he anticipates the introduction of this new bill to take place in the coming weeks.
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