Kindergarten

The article "A Day of Firsts in School" (August, 2006) featured a photo of a literacy test in progress at Bella Romero elementary school. The 5-year old girl Jamie Aguilar was assessed on her knowledge of the letters of the alphabet. When she stumbled she gave the teacher "an embarrassed grin". "That's OK", the teacher tells the girl. "You're going to learn these this year. That's why you're in school."

I thought how sad it is that these kids are officially tested on the first day of school! Not only that, but if the teacher says that the kids are in school to learn, then why test them on the first day, (or at all!) with the possibility of making them feel embarrassed/inadequate when they don't have the right answer?


Jamie Aguilar, 5, was all ready for school on Wednesday.

She was wearing new pink and black sneakers, and a pink skirt that she likes to twirl in for the teachers. She can't wait to start school, even though she's been forewarned about it by her siblings.

"My brother says it's boring and hot," she said.

Wednesday was the first day of school in Greeley-Evans School District 6, and it signaled the start of big changes. Ever since the state put the district on academic watch, staff members have been planning for this fall.

Two of the biggest changes in the school district will be at Bella Romero: All-day kindergarten and a new plan for English language-learners where students are taught predominantly in English.

The changes will help students learn more, said Michele Turner, Bella Romero's new principal.

Turner, who used to be a kindergarten teacher, said kindergarten teachers have to teach kids both social and academic skills. They often are so busy that they don't get the chance to teach as much as they want.

"If you have a full day of kindergarten, you have time for the rigor," she said.

For the English-language learning students, Turner said that every staff member at her school has been trained to help the students learn the language. Spanish will be spoken sparingly, she said. Lucila VanCleve, a kindergarten teacher at Bella Romero, said the standards are high these days for her students.

"I remember when my kids were little and they had nap time," she said. "We don't have time for that any more."

On Wednesday, VanCleve was explaining the changes at the school to parents. For a few of them, the changes were a surprise.

"That's what they're here for. To learn. The language and everything else," she told the parents.

Maria Avalos and her husband teach their four children both English and Spanish to ensure that they are bilingual. When their last school in Denver changed to all English, they came to Greeley in part for the dual-language programs. Now she doesn't know what she'll do.

"I guess we'll just have to do our part and work on Spanish more at home," she said.

Claudia Galindo's 5-year-old son Aleksey Alonzo doesn't speak any English, and she said she's glad he will be speaking it in school. For her, the switch to all-day kindergarten is going to be the hardest change.

"I'm so nervous. I never leave my kids," she said. "I think I'm going to start crying when he starts all-day."

Kindergarten students have spent the first two days of the school year taking physical screenings and being tested on letters and sounds. The students officially start their all-day program Friday.

On Wednesday, 5-year-old Jamie smiled all through the exams.

During one, she had to identify as many letters as she could on a sheet of paper. She aced the first ones but then she stumbled on a few. She gave teacher Lee Judy a shrug and an embarrassed grin.

"That's OK," Judy tells her. "You're going to learn these this year. That's why you're in school."

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