Elementary school grows larger, younger
Heidi Zemach | For The LOG
New Title-1 preschool teacher Alexis Kaferstein reads “The Little Red Hen,” aloud as three of her students enact the parts of the hen, the duck, the cat.
If you have noticed that Seward Elementary School students are looking younger lately, and that there are more of them, you’d be right. An impressive 60 students have enrolled in kindergarten this year, which means the school is now offering three kindergarten classes for the first time anyone can remember, said Principal David Kingsland. The incoming class size is so large, it’s double that of the sixth grade class. The school’s next largest class is in the low to mid- 40s, and the rest of the grades are even smaller. The elementary school also has grown by another 20 even younger students as it is now offering two new federal Title-1 Pre-K classes, along with the special needs pre-school that had been offered.
The increase is great news for the school, which was able to hire two new kindergarten/first grade teachers, a new preschool teacher, and to receive more classroom supplies and materials under the state funding foundation formula, which is based on student enrollment. It’s also good for the Seward community because there are more young teachers moving to Seward, often with spouses or children of their own, which helps the town’s continued growth.
(The high school also received several young new teachers including two English teachers, an athletic director, and a science/geometry teacher. A coordinator was hired for the Connections home-school program, and a new district-wide learning instructor also moved to town, and this is just the teaching staff.)
The preschool classes are also good for working parents, who now don’t have as much need to locate day-care, and for the youngsters. “I think they’re doing good and having a lot of fun,” said Jessi Cournoyer, who arrived at 3 p.m. Thursday afternoon to pick up her daughter Journey, and her sister’s daughter, Bristol, cousins born on the same day. Now Journey gets to spend more time socializing with other children, which she needed, Cournoyer said.
As of Labor Day, Alexis Kaferstein, the new preschool teacher, had 10 students in her morning class, a waiting list for others hoping to join that class, and six more in the afternoon class. She was expecting a full complement of 10 following a recent screening to predict their readiness. These preschoolers, like Journey and Bristol will do plenty of art work, they will work on learning their colors, their five senses, their numbers, shapes, and how to lace things. They sit together on the colorful alphabet rug, act out stories that their teacher reads them, and each child has their own job, such as line leader, weather checker, calendar, birthdays, etc.
This is Kaferstein’s first experience teaching within a public school setting so she is very excited to be at Seward Elementary, and is enjoying the level of individual attention that she will be able to offer each student with these comparatively small class-sizes. Prior to that, Kaferstein taught at a private preschool in Anchorage for three years, and in other places for more than a decade before that.
“You’ll see a huge difference with the (20) kids who go through this program,” Kaferstein said. The students will not only know things like their colors and numbers, they’ll also understand school rules and structure, the teachers, how to sit and listen to their teacher, how to share with others, and how to socialize better, such as how to express their feelings in a constructive manner, she said. At home, with bigger or smaller brothers or sisters, grabbing things, or acting out to get attention might have occurred, but that won’t work in a school setting.
Principal Kingsland, for his part, is thrilled for the school to be able move toward greater emphasis on early intervention, for remediation with tutors later in their school lives. The increase in kindergarten size to 60 students, compared to the 46 students in kindergarten last year, and 32 the year before that, will be felt for years to come as the group moves through all the schools, he said
Seward Elementary qualified for federal funding for the new preschool classes this year because a higher percentage of their students qualified for the free and reduced lunch program. Each year Title I funds are allocated to neighborhood schools based on poverty levels, which are determined through free and reduced lunch enrollments.
Heidi Zemach | For The LOG
Preschoolers listen intently to their teacher tell a story.
The percentage of qualifying students has ranged from 35-45 percent of the student body, depending on the year, Kingsland said. Last year, he believes the number was 41 percent. Two other schools in the district, Sterling Elementary and Small Banks Schools, also began receiving Title-1 Pre-K funding for the first time this year. The school also continues to qualify for receiving and offering the nutritional morning snack program, which provides each child with a cup of in-season fresh fruits and raw vegetables a couple of days a week.
In addition to Mrs. Kaferstein, new teacher Carri Lunardi is teaching one of the kindergarten classes. Mrs. Barnwell replaced Ann Ghicadus upon her retirement, and Andrew Scrivo, who was hired initially to teach a K/1 multi age-class, was moved to the first grade as the numbers in kindergarten grew. Breighley Sexton, the new all-schools music teacher, replaced Kyle Schneider, who is teaching high school music in Homer.