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Vanessa Hernandez attended Gavilan College and graduated from the University of California at Santa Cruz before becoming a Cal-SOAP staff member. She said the programs “encourage stu- dents to be well-rounded by teaching them about college prepa- ration; health, fitness and wellness; and how to be a positive member of the community.” Christine Wanish is the mother of two Las Animas Elementary students; Isabella, 9, and Alexander, 11. Her kids have participated in both programs for five years. According to Wanish, “As a parent, it excites me to see the enrichment and growth they have exhibited by being a part of the Power School programs; they love them and are excited about learning.” The Power School programs are funded through a three-year renewable State After School Education and Safety (ASES) grant, in addition to multiple extremely competitive five-year Federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers grants. Gilroy Unified School District Superintendent, Dr. Debbie Flores, expressed her hope that these vital programs will continue to be supported by grants going forward. “We are fortunate to have staff develop such a collaborative model program that benefits our students in so many ways with essential learning experiences to promote academic success as well as help close the student achievement gap,” Flores said. The Importance of Kindergarten Preparedness By Kimberly Beare, PIO, Morgan Hill Unified School District T he first day of Kindergarten is a key milestone in a child’s life—filled with excitement, a bit of uncertainty, and an overall sense of adventure. But not every child who walks into our classrooms is ready for school. Standards for Kindergarten students have risen in recent decades, so it is more important than ever that parents help their children start off on the right foot academically. Morgan Hill Unified School District Kindergarten and Transitional Kindergarten (TK) teachers Debbie Baker, Paula Dennery, and Terry Muscatell, have collectively dedicated more than 50 years to educating local youth. Their experiences provide valuable insights into the impact that “classroom preparedness” has on a young child’s confidence and academic success. Debbie Baker Terry Muscatell Paula Dennery The two most important factors for parents to consider before enrolling their children in Kindergarten are academic and social- emotional preparedness. A child’s overall preparedness is highly dependent on the learning that has taken place long before they reach the age of five. Positive interactions with parents and other children contribute to their readiness and confidence. Debbie Baker is an 18-year veteran of teaching. As she explained it, “Children who are given the guidance and time to explore and interact with books, crayons, chalk, paint, modeling GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN dough, Legos, and safety scissors before they come to my Kindergarten class are more willing to try; more confident because of practice; and show independence sooner because they have had that opportunity.” Paula Dennery, a 20-year TK and Kindergarten teacher, added that, “with exposure to books at home, children have a more extensive vocabulary and background knowledge to understand concepts taught in school. They are ready to sit and attend to books and lessons in class from the start.” The children of parents who are more involved with their school tend to experience a higher level of academic achievement. According to Kindergarten teacher Terry Muscatell, “We encourage parents to get to know their child’s teacher and give us insight into their child’s personality. Young students’ brains are eager to learn, and if we as teachers have parental support, children will exceed the defined Kindergarten standards.” Baker said parents play a critical role in providing early support and educational stimulation at home. “Turning off electronics and spending at least ten minutes every day reading and talking with your incoming Kinder or TK child can drastically improve their success in school,” Baker said. “It really can be that simple.” School district staff and teachers are taking an active role in helping parents prepare their children for the classroom, including the creation of a TK and Kindergarten Preparedness Guide. Among other things, the guide includes practical tips on how parents can incorporate basic learning skills into daily routines. For example, they can point out and read signs to their children while they’re driving around town, or select and name SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2017 gmhtoday.com 39