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District praising new kindergarten

Thanks to a new “developmental kindergarten” at Blakely School, five special needs children will get the extra help they need to join their peers in regular classrooms next year.

“The idea is to give the children the foundation they need so that when they enter first grade, they are ready and integrated into the classroom,” said teacher Jill Holbrook, who was hired in August to lead the program.

The new, district-wide program was funded with a federal grant for students with disabilities, and district administrators are thrilled with its success so far.

A presentation on the developmental kindergarten will be made at 7 p.m. Thursday, during a school board meeting at the high school library.

Holbrook works closely with speech therapist and an occupational therapist in the half-day program.

“Some of kids have sensory issues or autism, and in a small group setting we can isolate those issues and help them prepare” for the subject matter and activity in a regular first-grade classroom, she said.

The program serves children for whom “regular kindergarten didn’t provide enough individual attention,” while a functional skills program at Ordway, called Ordway Rocks, was not considered advanced enough, said Clayton Mork, the district’s executive director of instructional support services.

“There was some concern in the district that there was a gap in our continuum of services,” Mork said. “We have a showcase developmental preschool, and the teachers are just awesome. The kids get all this individual and skilled attention, and we wanted to be able to provide that in kindergarten, as well.”

Some children are ready to be integrated into the regular kindergarten classroom, he noted, but others need the extra attention to get ready for first grade.

“It’s really nice to have the time with these children,” said Holbrook, who joined the district in August. “Small group instruction is what really works with this group.”

While the program accepts students district-wide, it meets in a portable at Blakely school which was renovated especially for the class. Holbrook said that next year, she plans to monitor her students’ progress when they are enrolled in their neighborhood schools.

The district anticipates that the number of students in the developmental kindergarten will double next year, to 12 students.

Mork said the district was lucky to hire “a star” in the field like Holbrook, who has advanced degrees in special education as well as administration. She and her husband, a state department employee, moved here from Los Angeles. He is currently working in Iraq.

Holbrook said she has been drawn to special education her whole life.

“I think if you can find what works for each student, you will find their strengths and their confidence there,” she said.

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