Daily Journal, Scott Roberson, Associated Press
FRANKLIN, Ind. — In Franklin, half of the kindergartners can't count or identify the alphabet on their first day.
Kindergarten teachers see it immediately. Some students can race through the alphabet and read. Others don't know how to write their names or count.
The widening disparity between kindergartners ready for school and those who are not has implications well beyond first or second grade and the classroom, educators said. Once behind, it's hard to catch up.
Moreover, the stakes are getting higher as state education standards say kindergartners should know how to use capitalized letters and write short paragraphs.
A local education group is out to stop and reverse the growing gap by working to get more area children enrolled in preschool.
Johnson County Learning Centers is reaching out to area schools in an effort to establish more preschool classes.
The nonprofit groups has established two preschools, plans to begin one at Edinburgh schools in the fall and is expected to get the go ahead to begin preschool programs at Franklin schools.
The group is asking Franklin school officials to use space at Webb Elementary School to offer early childhood education programs.
One of the classes will be a full-day classroom open to students from around Johnson County, while the second will focus on Franklin students from low-income homes. Both of them will teach 3- to 5-year-olds lessons they'll need to know to become strong readers, and eventually strong students, Johnson County Learning Centers board president Jann Johnson said.
Franklin Superintendent David Clendening said he plans to recommend the board accept the proposal next month.
And while issues such as transportation and notifying low-income families about the program need to be addressed, board member William Maschmeyer said he expects the board will approve the recommendation.
"Anything we can do to improve the readiness of students entering kindergarten should help us all the way through the school district, including graduation rates," Maschmeyer said.
The standards for kindergarten have been rising, and if students are unprepared for what's expected of them by the time they start it becomes very difficult for them to catch up, educators said.
Students from low-income families also are typically further behind than middle class families in essential reading skills. A 3-year-old from a low-income family typically has a vocabulary of 3,000 words, while a middle-class 3-year-old knows about 6,000 words, Clendening has said.
The goal of offering the classes is to give parents, regardless of their income, the chance to offer preschool for their children. About 85 percent of a child's potential for learning is determined before they're 5 years old, and the earlier that child starts learning the basics of reading, the better, Johnson said.
Beyond that, Johnson has cited statistics that shows every dollar spent on pre-kindergarten education saves taxpayers money in the long run. Return on investment includes increased graduation rates, job skills, home ownership and decreased crime, welfare and other taxpayer costs.
Franklin director of curriculum Deb Brown-Nally is hopeful that, if approved, the preschool classes will mean more kindergartners will arrive on their first day ready to read.
"We hopefully get better prepared kindergartners who have richer experiences," she said.
And that will eventually mean stronger high school graduates with better chances of finding jobs, Johnson said.
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