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Begindergarten

Waiting list for Lakeview program
Begindergarten teacher Laurie Stinocher leads her students on a group read during class at Lakeview Elementary in Solon Feb. 26. (photo by Doug Lindner)

SOLON– An early beginning is proving popular at Lakeview Elementary.
The Solon school board held its regular monthly meeting Monday, Feb. 12, and discussed the district’s “Begindergarten” program.
Begindergarten is Lakeview’s Elementary’s alternate kindergarten curriculum, presented as an option for children technically old enough for kindergarten (5 years old on or before Sept. 15), but developmentally may be too young for the structure of kindergarten.
Students enrolled in Begindergarten focus more on social and emotional development than academic skills, and are placed in the program if found to be lagging in social, emotional, academic, physical or intellectual skills.
Solon school superintendent Davis Eidahl noted the alternate kindergarten is a wonderful program before turning it over to a pair of educators to discuss it further.
Begindergarten teacher Laurie Stinocher and Lakeview Elementary Principal Jodi Rickels presented an update of the early intervention program, started in 2013, to the board.
The program has grown exponentially since it started, the pair informed the board, and can no longer accept every applicant. The limit for the program is 15 students. If a child cannot get into the program, that child usually goes on to kindergarten.
“The first year, we begged people to join us,” Rickels said, laughing. She said she thought they had around 10 students. The program gave those initial students, and all since, an extra year to develop.
“Preschool is our partner in recommending Begindergarten,” Stinocher told the board, adding she and Rickels discuss each student’s appropriateness for the program with their previous preschool teacher.
In Begindergarten, every day begins with a discussion with the kids about what to expect the upcoming day. Children spend their day in both group and individual sessions, developing skills observed to be in need of more attention, as well as working together with others to strengthen their social skills.
Rickels said they like to use the phrase “striving to thriving” to describe the children before entering, and then after exiting, the program. They enter “striving to do better,” and upon completion of the school year, they leave more confident with the necessary skills to enter kindergarten, as well as becoming leaders.
“They just blossom,” said Stinocher.
In the past year, Rickels noted, no child attending the program went on to need an academic intervention, and other area schools are reaching out to learn about the program in hopes of implementing something similar themselves.
“It’s a great model,” said Rickels.
Stinocher handed the room a paper given to interested parents. A bulk of the information focused on the process of deciding whether or not a child would be a good fit for the program.
The questions included:
“Does my child like to play with others?”
“Is my child comfortable in new situations and environments?”
And “Can my child keep his or her hands to self?”
A “no” to one or more of the listed questions could be an indication the child could be a good fit for Begindergarten, the paper stated.
Board member Dan Coons asked how it was determined who could be admitted to the program.
“It’s a hard decision,” said Stinocher of the process.
She said she discusses it with Rickels, the student’s preschool teacher, as well as the parents.
Ultimately, she said, they pick who they feel best fits the program.
“Is there a need or a desire to have a second classroom?” Coons asked.
Rickels and Stinocher indicated it could be a possibility in the near future.
Stinocher said students who can’t fit in the program will sometimes go on to struggle in kindergarten.
The final decision for who can make it into the program is made after kindergarten roundup, Rickels informed the board.
“It just fills my heart with warmth to see how excited they are about learning,” Stinocher said. “And they’re achieving.”
Word of mouth about Begindergarten is getting around, and the two said they’re being approached earlier and earlier about it.
“Some parents will say, ‘In two or three years, my child will be coming. How do I get them in?’” Stinocher said.
Eidahl thanked the two for the presentation and said their work was a “testimony to our mission statement really being operationalized.
“The day that you just walked us through was rigorous, relevant,” he said. “Maximizing achievement through great teaching.”
The school board meets on the second Monday of the month, and will convene again on Monday, Mar. 12.