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Academic Spotlight: Tyrone elementary Pre-K 3 and Pre-K 4 programs and middle school’s ‘Project Step-Up’

The Tyrone Area School Board meeting last night featured two of the district’s up and coming programs that were highlighted during the board’s regular session. The academic spotlight shined on the elementary school’s Pre-K programs for three and four-year-olds, and the middle school’s program, “Project Step-Up.”
In August of 2007, Tyrone Area School District was one of 140 recipients for the $75 million in funds introduced by Governor Ed Rendell for the PA Pre-K Counts Grant. Tyrone was given $340,000 to implement two new three-year-old classes and a new full day four-year-old class.
The Pre-K 3 program serves 55 children, five days a week in half day sessions. The full day Pre-K 4 program consists of 18 children, five days a week, from 8:10 a.m. until 2:50 p.m. Both have a consistent curriculum with kindergarten, and are aligned with Early Learning Standards. The young kids learn early literacy, math and language skills development.
Parent involvement is a key component and strongly encouraged in the programs.
The Pre-K programs are a part of TASD’s Early Childhood Center, which also includes K4 Title I Preschool, Blair County Head Start, IU08 Preschool and Hollidaysburg YMCA Day Care. It serves a total of 200 three and four-year-old children in the district.
Elementary Principal Melissa Russell said she is very proud of the preschool program, and that it added 75 new children this year. She pointed out that research conducted in Pennsylvania shows that high-quality preschool programs like Tyrone’s can reduce special education participation and grade retention, improve children’s readiness for school, improve student’s early school achievement, and assist children in acquiring essential literacy skills.
High-quality preschool programs also increase a student’s likeliness to graduate from high school, attend college and earn higher salaries as adults.
“Getting the kids in here young and exposing them to those academic literacy skills at a young age helps us close the gap,” said Russell. “If you wait until kindergarten, by five-years-old, 90 percent of the brain is formed, so we need to get them at three-years-old so we can start making sure we’re exposing them to those skills to make them successful later in school.”
TAES full day K4 teacher, Shana Smith said, “This program really benefits the kids. It’s fun, it’s playful, it’s learning, it’s a great program, and we’re thankful for all the support.”
“We just know, even in this time we’ve had these kids, what they’ve learned and how prepared they’ll be for kindergarten,” said K3 teacher Michelle Raabe.
Kendra Pritchett, also a K3 teacher in the program, said that the focus is on the students development in early literacy, math and language skills, and exposing the students to those concepts.
“The students pick them up as they are ready, we don’t force them on anything,” said Pritchett.
The school district has applied for more funding that will allow the district to offer another full day K4 class to meet the needs of the families in the school district. Some of the Pre-K three and four-year-olds attended the board meeting, and displayed some of what they learned in school thus far.
The other program highlighted at last night’s board meeting was the middle school program, “Project Step-Up.” The goal of the program is to empower students to effectively combat social influences meant to cause harm. It aims to provide students with the skill and support to strengthen themselves against being treated unfairly, unjustly, and in a manner students do not welcome.
Project Step-Up hopes to encourage those who act without regard for others to consider their actions and make positive adjustments. It’s designed to empower students to effect positive changes in themselves and others.
Middle School Principal Dr. John Vendetti said the program is a step-up from the school’s bullying program, to teach kids to deal with social issues that are harmful in school and make them more knowledgeable about it.
“We want students to become more supportive of each other, especially when they see it occur in the building,” said Vendetti. “We want them to come up and tell somebody about it, and to help each other out.”
Middle School Guidance Counselor Matthew Kimberlin said that it’s not just about bullying, but it’s “even bigger than that.” He said it’s about helping kids become responsible for each other, to take care of each other, whether a student is popular or not, an athlete or in band, a good student or not a strong student.
“It’s about just going out and helping support people,” said Kimberlin. “Maintenance is what we’re really, really making the biggest emphasis in this. It’s how we’re doing this program.”
He added, “A lot of kids know about this stuff, but a lot of kids don’t talk about it. We stress maintenance, maintenance, maintenance.”
Three seventh grade middle school students who participate in Project Step-Up addressed the board, and each student shared an experience they were involved in. Those students included: Max Babe, Alyssa Parker and Keturah Weaver.
Superintendent Dr. William Miller and the school board thanked the students for coming and also spoke highly of the guidance counselor’s efforts put forth in Project Step-Up.
“The energy Matt (Kimberlin) demonstrates is what it takes to accomplish these goals,” said Miller.