CONCRETE — This school year, some students younger than ever are attending Concrete Elementary School.

They are part of the district’s new Transitional Kindergarten program, where 4-year-olds get to experience what kindergarten is like before actually being enrolled.

“It’s that early learning,” Concrete School District Superintendent Wayne Barrett said. “Teaching them to begin to spell and do basic academic skills.

“It’s to get a jump-start on learning ahead of kindergarten.”

Based on programs like the Mount Vernon School District’s Jump Start program or the Bellingham School District’s Promise Kindergarten, the Concrete program is designed to give children a foundation for the rest of their school careers.

“Many of our kids don’t get a pre-K opportunity,” Barrett said.

Throughout the yearlong program, children learn the basics of what it means to be a student: how to line up, how to tell their teachers whether they’re riding the bus or eating hot lunches, and how to play and share with classmates.

“Just the social component of them learning how to play with other kids,” Principal Jaci Gallagher said. “Neighbors are far apart up here, they don’t always have families to play with.”

On top of the social and emotional learning aspects, the students are learning the same things they will learn in kindergarten, meaning that next year they will be prepared.

“It’s almost like doing kindergarten a couple of times,” Barrett said.

For years, the district has looked for ways to get such a the program going, and decided with the COVID-19 pandemic affecting students, now was the time.

“What we’re finding, especially during COVID, is that a lot of our kids weren’t ready,” Barrett said.

The district applied for a grant, but after not receiving it chose to funding the program on its own.

Despite the cost — about $40,000 in start-up funding, plus a teacher and paraeducator — Barrett and Gallagher said the program is worth it.

So far, parents seem to be responding, with the class of 18 students being at capacity.

“It’s full and great,” Gallagher said.

Already parents are asking to have something similar for even younger kids, Barrett said.

— Reporter Kera Wanielista: 360-416-2141, kwanielista@skagitpublishing.com, Twitter: @Kera_SVH, facebook.com/KeraReports

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