AUBURN – The lesson was math.

The students were Colby Levesque and Seth Gower, both 4.

The tools: miniature marshmallows, a picture of a cup of cocoa and teacher Chrissy Lenahan.

“I’m going to give you 10 marshmallows. Don’t eat them,” Lenahan said to Colby at Fairview School on Thursday morning.

She asked Colby to count.

“One, two, three, four … ” the preschooler counted, touching the marshmallows with his small fingers.

Colby and Seth took turns counting the marshmallows, then took turns subtracting (eating) them.

In other parts of the room, 4-year-olds drove cars in the sandbox, tried on princess gowns in the drama corner, built Legos houses and looked at books.

Kids getting accustomed to ‘school-type routines’

Welcome to Auburn’s pilot prekindergarten program.

After winning Auburn School Committee approval in August, the program opened in October to 40 preschoolers, all 4 years old.

So far the program is “going wonderfully,” said Linda Leiva, early childhood team leader for the school department. “It seems to be meeting some great needs that children had.”

They are being introduced to numbers and letters, and growing socially and emotionally, getting used to scheduling and school-type routines.

In the three months she’s had her two classes, the difference is “huge,” Lenahan said.

“A lot of kids came in here not knowing the letter of their first name. For them to say, ‘That’s the letter ‘C.’ My name starts with the letter ‘C,’ is a pretty big thing.”

Studies show that children who start kindergarten ready to learn have an academic advantage that stays with them throughout school.

In Auburn there are four classes, each with about 10 students. Morning and afternoon classes are held at Sherwood Heights and Fairview schools. Classes meet every weekday but Wednesday.

Each class has a ratio of four special needs students for every six typical children. Integrating them helps both groups, educators say.

The special needs students gain the socialization and language skills they need. The other children benefit from being exposed to those with needs, Lenahan said.

Because the special needs students are in each class, most of the costs are covered by the state. Auburn taxpayers provide only the space, supplies and transportation.

Because the state is encouraging school districts to offer pre-K programs, those children are counted in Auburn’s state school-funding formula. Next year each student will bring in at least $5,410, Auburn School Superintendent Barbara Eretzian told the School Committee Wednesday night. That means Auburn will gain at least $202,875 in state reimbursement.

“This is seed money,” Eretzian said, adding that it should be put into the preschool program to expand it.

Details of how much the program will grow next year will come when Eretzian proposes her budget later this winter. She said Friday there will be growth, but not significant growth because the school department will have to pick up some of the costs.

Leiva said there’s a need.

“I just got another call from a parent wanting their child to attend, but there isn’t any room,” she said. “We have waiting lists.”