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Batavia District 101 educating kindergarteners with park district

Teacher Sarah Schneider, who is employed by the Batavia Park District, works with kindergarteners Will Schones (left) and Jameson Strong during their kindergarten enrichment program at H.C. Storm Elementary School in Batavia.
Teacher Sarah Schneider, who is employed by the Batavia Park District, works with kindergarteners Will Schones (left) and Jameson Strong during their kindergarten enrichment program at H.C. Storm Elementary School in Batavia.

BATAVIA – In honor of Earth Day on Monday, H.C. Storm kindergarten enrichment teacher Sarah Schneider was helping her students prepare to plant grass seedlings.

“Planting grass will help the air in the room become purified,” she told the students. “In a couple of weeks, we might be able to give our grass a haircut.”

It is one of the activities kindergarten enrichment students have been engaged in since the Batavia Park District started working with Batavia School District 101 to present a tuition-based kindergarten enrichment program. The Batavia School Board last year voted to retool the district’s kindergarten program in several ways, including the district partnering with the Batavia Park District to provide an extended-day kindergarten program for students.

The park district program, offered in each of the school district’s six elementary schools, in early February marked its 100th day of operation. Illinois certified teachers teach the program.

Those students enrolled in Batavia’s program attend the school district’s half-day kindergarten program in the morning, and then the park district’s enrichment program in the afternoon.

“I try to enrich their kindergarten experience,” Schneider said.

The program weaves academic concepts, such as literacy, science, math and reasoning, into recreational, artistic and musical activities. Schneider has 14 students in her class.

“That’s a good number to work with,” Schneider said. “I get to really work with them one on one to help them with anything they need help on.”

Yearly tuition for the program is $2,700, or families can pay a monthly payment plan of $270 for 10 months. The Batavia School District in fall 2010 started charging $250 a month to keep the all-day kindergarten program going after the school district no longer was getting enough funding from the state to cover the cost of full-day kindergarten.

Andrew and Sarah Barrett decided to enroll their son, Theo, 5, in the enrichment program this year. About 110 families are enrolled this year, according to enrichment administrator Rachel Schmit.

Andrew Barrett, who also is the director of curriculum for Geneva School District, is sold on the program.

“My kid learns more because he is with Sarah Schneider for a half-day,” he said. “He’s ready to be in school for a full day.”

Barrett’s wife, Sarah, also teaches fourth grade at H.C. Storm School.

“It works nicely for our family,” Andrew Barrett said. “Theo kind of likes that. His mom can wave to him at lunch.”

Schmit said the program is going smoother than she expected.

“There’s no reason we can’t provide education at the same level or even better than in the past,” she said.

In setting up the program, Schmit said she first met with district administrators and school principals.

Brad Newkirk, chief academic officer for the Batavia School District, said he has received compliments from parents about the program and the staff.

“It seems like they are focused on academics from what I see and that they are providing opportunities for small-group and large-group instruction,” he said.

Illinois requires school districts to offer kindergarten, but does not require that children attend kindergarten before being permitted to enroll in first grade. Children must be at least 5 years old to enroll in kindergarten.

The Geneva School District does not offer all-day kindergarten, but the district teams with the Geneva Park District to offer a program called Kinderzone. Both St. Charles and Kaneland school districts offer tuition-based extended-day kindergarten, comparable to what the Batavia Park District charges.

Batavia parent Katie Sudler is upset the Batavia School Board decided to drop all-day kindergarten. Two of her children went through the program, and she paid tuition for one of them.

“I was very willing to pay for it,” she said. “I thought it was very important for my kids to have full-day kindergarten. It is unfortunate that my 3-year-old won’t get the same experiences as they did.”

She said the new park district enrichment program doesn’t replace what the school district offered.

“It’s not the full educational program,” Sudler said.

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