In Case You Haven’t Heard, Pre-K is a Big Deal

In Case You Haven’t Heard, Pre-K Really is a Big Deal
Posted on 09/29/2023
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First time students in Weakley County Schools' Pre-Kindergarten classrooms are 6 weeks into what may arguably be a child’s single most important school year. From problem solving to interest exploration, students in Pre-K classrooms are enrolled in a program that offers young children the opportunity to explore, learn, and grow at their own pace in a nurturing and supportive environment. It’s safe to say that Pre-K is a big deal. 

“What a great example of making wise choices and teamwork! Great job, friends!” praises Taylor Zantop, Pre-K Teacher at Martin Primary School. 

Students are working together to clean up supplies and materials after time spent at interest exploration centers. The classroom is bustling in preparation for the next item on the day’s busy agenda: a wiggle session prior to lunch time. 

a group of students stand on a colorful carpet preparing to wiggle and dance

A sing-along video about dancing out your energy appears on a TV screen in front of the carpeted area where students are gathering. Dancing and wiggling, the children know all the words and sing them from the heart. Zantop, swaying and smiling, encourages the students to move around and have fun while Educational Assistant Cristen Crossno is resetting the perimeter of the classroom and pulling out lunchboxes. 

Every minute that a child spends in a Pre-K classroom has been carefully structured in advance. Each moment is packed with pre-planned activities. The Pre-K experience is set up for children to learn essential foundational skills in preparation for kindergarten and the cycle of a school day.  

Pre-K is all about fostering the love of learning in a safe and supportive environment, according to Elementary Supervisor of Instruction Terri Stephenson.

Students are working together to clean up supplies and materials after time spent at interest exploration centers

“When young children are presented with options to choose their areas of interest, it can open up an entire new world of learning possibilities and opportunities to grow. They begin to apply problem solving and critical thinking. They are building, creating, imagining, choosing, talking and communicating with other kids, and having conversations. Specialized educators are working with them, talking with them, and asking thought provoking questions as they play and learn together. Development thrives in that type of environment,” said Stephenson. 

The foundation laid during Pre-K can set students on a path to success that lasts a lifetime. Social and emotional development occurs through peer interaction and management of feelings. Students cultivate language and they build communication skills through use of new vocabulary, listening, and following instructions. The program offers an introduction to the fundamentals of early literacy through reading, writing, letter recognition, phonics, and work with sight words. Through projects, activities, and experiments, the students are introduced to mathematics, sciences, music, art, social studies, health and safety, and other subject areas. From puzzles that stimulate critical thinking to increased independence and self-help skills, Pre-K standards help children meet developmental milestones in a safe and nurturing environment.

teacher gives a high 5 - Pre-K Teacher Taylor Zantop gives praise to student during a 1 to 1 work session.

Zantop believes that all children have one important trait in common: the capacity to learn. 

“Every student is unique, and we can foster the love of learning by helping children learn at their own pace. My favorite part of my job is forming relationships with my students that last for many years, not just the year they are in my classroom,” Zantop explained. “Building positive relationships early with your students and their families helps to create that crucial, positive learning environment for students and parents to feel comfortable and engaged,” she said.  

While Pre-K standards offered through programs in various day care centers may differ, Weakley County Schools’ Pre-Kindergarten program is a function of the Tennessee Department of Education. For that reason, specific rules and requirements apply regarding the material learned, strategies for how the material is taught, and where the learning should occur for greatest efficacy. 

District Pre-K Parent Consultant Karen Fowler specializes in identifying needs and creating positive strategies with children, parents, and teachers to help bridge the gap between home and the classroom to help young students thrive.   

“For young children, the biggest piece is social and emotional development,” notes Fowler. “We want the first experience with school to be a positive one. I make myself available to families. Sometimes I offer resources, and other times it is reassurance and a listening ear. Children don’t all develop at the same pace. In Pre-K, we look at what’s developmentally appropriate for each child, and provide experiences that engage and encourage thinking based on each unique, whole child. All the pieces fit together with the goal of providing a supportive and nurturing space for children to learn and grow,” she said. 

Per required by the TDOE, children who meet income requirements and age guidelines are considered first during the enrollment period. Any child who is 4 years old on or before August 15 and meets income eligibility set by the Department of Health and Human Services can apply.  

Currently, there are open spots for students to enroll in Pre-K at several locations in the Weakley County School district. Enrollment is open for Pre-K students at Dresden Elementary, Sharon School, Gleason School, and Greenfield School. Enrollment is open to eligible students who are 4 years of age, and there is some availability for students who are 3 years old.  

To learn more about enrollment and eligibility, call the Weakley County Board of Education at (731) 364-2247. 

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