AUBURN – Kindergarten isn’t what it used to be.

It used to be a half day. Now it’s all day.

Successful kindergartners don’t just learn their colors and play. By the end of the year, they’re expected to read, a skill that used to be taught in first grade.

“That’s a lot expected of these little guys,” Washburn Elementary School kindergarten teacher Sue LaRue said.

To boost skills before school starts Aug. 27, Washburn school launched a summer program for a class of incoming kindergartners called Jump Start.

On a late July morning, Larissa Denbow, 4, and Maz Guthrie, 5, practiced their letters in chalk on the playground.

In the classroom, they and others listened to speech therapist Marcy Kenison read “Blueberries for Sal” and explain about books.

“Today we’re also going to be learning about text,” Kenison said. “Text just means the words all through the book. There’s our title page, ‘Blueberries for Sal.’ There’s Sal doing some picking.”

As she read, Kenison emphasized vocabulary, pausing to explain what the words “struggling” and “tremendous” meant. Several 5-year-olds correctly answered that the word tremendous meant “big.”

One 5-year-old asked why the book’s illustrations were all black and white.

That’s what the author and illustrator decided to do, Kenison said.

Jump Start is not traditional summer school, said LaRue, who is heading up the pilot program. The program will give children coming into kindergarten “a heads up on letters and sounds, getting them used to school.”

Kindergarten screening data was used to help determine which students could benefit from the program, she said.

Ideally, every child starting kindergarten knows how to be a good listener, can sit still long enough to focus on a story and follow rules such as no talking and getting in line.

“If they can do that I can teach them,” LaRue said. “If they can’t sit for a story, if they can’t sit for a lesson, it’s hard to teach them.”

The class is making a difference; students have sharpened listening skills.

“When we started they were sitting in people’s laps. We’re trying to pull away from that now, because I won’t have any laps when kindergarten starts,” she said.

Jump Start will likely produce incoming kindergarten students “more ready to listen,” she said. “A lot of them have made great gains in letters and sounds, writing their names. They know how to line up and follow directions.”

One speech therapist works with children in the program, which helps some better understand correct letter sounds, Auburn Superintendent Katy Grondin said.

The plan is to continue the Jump Start program at Washburn next summer. “Then we’re hoping to take the data from the impact of the program” and seek grants from foundations to expand it beyond Washburn school, Grondin said. Or, the School Committee could elect to include it in future budgets. The committee will be given reports on the impact, Grondin said.

The program, which was promoted by former Auburn School Committee member Tracey Levesque, is paid for by federal Title 1 money because Washburn school is considered high needs.

The cost of the five-week program, which began July 7 and ends Aug. 8, is $11,000, which includes salaries and bus transportation, Grondin said.

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