CHEYENNE - It didn't take Nikki Poelma long to figure out that her kindergarten students weren't quite ready for school when they walked through the doors of Albin Elementary.
"I think the first year I taught I realized the kids had a long ways to go," said Poelma. "That really got me thinking about how I could get them prepared before they got to school, so kindergarten wouldn't be such a struggle for them. A lot of them were packing in up to three years of work into one year of kindergarten."
Albin Principal and Special Education instructor, LeAnn Smith estimates roughly 50 percent of the Albin kindergarteners (generally class sizes of around 13) come to school with little English language and there are no preschool education opportunities in Albin.
In an effort to combat the lack of school readiness, the school has instituted a program called, Academics Beyond the Classroom (ABC). Poelma has volunteered to work with pre-kindergarten students for an hour a day, one or two-days a week during the second and third quarters. In that time, she introduces students to school readiness skills such as: counting to 10, recognizing their names, how to follow rules in a classroom setting and an understanding of basic shapes and colors.
"She does this pro-bono," Smith said of Poelma's willingness to run the program. "She's so dedicated to helping students learn that she does this without getting extra pay for it."
In a typical instructional session, Poelma models reading or math activities that can be done at home. Then, using the Starboard, the teacher models a computer activity which the participants try at their individual computer stations. If at any point a child needs a break from the computer, contingency activities will be provided for the child and parent to work on together.
Making the process more interesting is the fact that Poelma doesn't speak Spanish.
"It's total immersion, which is how all of our kindergarteners are taught because i don't speak Spanish," Poelma said. "I do a lot of modeling and showing them real-life artifacts. We do movements or actions in whatever we are working on. There are many different non-verbal ways of communicating."
"The same strategies that work well with EL students are the same strategies that work really well with our English Language students," Smith said. "They're strategies that work really well for all students."
Albin Elementary School and STRIDE Learning Center of Laramie County have also partnered as part of the ABC program. STRIDE provides early-intervention services to students, which they're able to screen at the Albin Elementary and put them into small groups instead of working in individual homes.
Through the ABC program, the Albin Elementary School also partnered with STRIDE Learning Center of Laramie County, which provides early intervention services to young students for the ABC students. STRIDE Learning Center was able to do screening for kids who might need services. STRIDE Learning Center was working in homes and has now brought small groups of children into groups.
"I just see kids who are a lot more excited about coming to school and a lot more ready to interact with their peers," Poelma said "Their attention span is better and their listening skills are better when they get here. They aren't as nervous about what school will be like and they have already met me.
"Finding opportunities for the pre-school aged students to have interaction with other kids their own age is big in a community our size," she continued. "Now, they already know their classmates and they know some of the kids. If they are less-stressed, they perform better and it is easier for them to learn."
In addition to the volunteer kindergarten readiness program, Albin Elementary School also hosts a Parent Academy, which was founded through a partnership with the University of Colorado's Bueno Equity Assistance Center.
A group of parents meets one hour per week during the second semester of school. The hope is that the program can offer some parent education with an emphasis on how to reinforce learning objectives at home. According to a release from Albin School, parents and teachers discuss research-based strategies in order to help students succeed. Parents also receive information about the Common Core State Standards, academic and social expectations of their children, strategies to be used at home as well as study tips and basic computer skills.
"I think there are probably about eight parents that attend on average," Smith said. "There are a lot of repeat customers, because we have their kids for six years, so a lot of the parents start coming and keep coming year-after-year."
Smith said the program has served parents who are responsible for nearly one-third of the Albin student population and parents from other schools in the Laramie 2 District. The program is facilitated by Title I staff and open to all parents. Smith also said 100 percent of the students whose parents attended the Parent Academy scored proficient or advanced on PAWS reading assessment.
"We wouldn't be able to make this thing fly if we didn't have parents who were willing to drop everything for an hour or two because they also value education," Smith said.