Bumper crop of kids | VailDaily.com

Bumper crop of kids

Connie Steiert
Shane Macomber/Vail DailyKindergarten student Sofia Aguilar peeks at the photgrapher during a lesson in Donna Dino's class at Brush Creek Elementary.

EAGLE COUNTY – Call it the kindergarten mystery, if you will. Or, better still, the kindergarten enigma. Either way, school officials are scratching their heads, wondering just what precipitated this year’s bumper crop of kindergartners.In most of Eagle County’s nine elementary schools, kindergarten enrollment numbers are exactly where they were expected to be this fall. Others, however – such as Red Hill, Brush Creek, and Avon Elementaries – are far above expected enrollment for five-year-olds. On opening day, some classrooms were bursting at the seams.Administrators point to a combination of factors ranging from new subdivisions to boundary changes to special programs.Surprise surgeDownvalley, Red Hill Elementary has seen the largest jump in kindergarteners. The school had enrolled 71 kindergartners by mid-September – 24 over projections. Brush Creek Elementary isn’t far behind, with 17 more kindergartners than expected. Upvalley, Avon is positively swimming with kindergartners at 92 thus far – almost double the projected 44 kids.Instead of 458 kindergarten students as projected, as of Friday, Sept. 2, there were 543 enrolled, says Karen Strakbein, the school district’s assistant superintendent Karen Strakbein

“That’s 85 more kindergartners than last year,” Strakbein says. Strakbein typically looks at two main pieces of data for kindergarten numbers: birth rates and growth. In 2000, the year most of today’s kindergartners were born, there were 774 births, says Strakbein, versus 717 in 1999. Historically, the school district can expect 85 percent of those children in kindergarten five years later. “Certainly, we know that not all those kids were born here, and we know they don’t always stay here,” says Strakbein. Somehow, however, that 8 percent increase has transformed into a 18.5 percent increase. “This is one of those very unusual years,” Strakbein says.New housing subdivisions are a factor. Eagle Ranch is proving popular in Eagle and Chatfield Corners in Gypsum has attracted families. But this still does not solve the puzzle, as far as Strakbein is concerned.

Dual languageRed Hill Elementary School Principal Nancy Alex said she saw the writing on the wall from the first day of school. She sent a letter out to parents informing them the school might need to add an additional kindergarten class. Two weeks ago, Red Hill had 72 kindergartners enrolled and was in the process of adding a fourth class to accommodate them.The Eagle County School District’s class-size guidelines suggest kindergarten classes should ideally hold no more than 20 students, but the actual class size and staffing is up to each school. “We can’t always stick to that,” says Carolyn Neff, the district’s director of elementary education. “When kids walk in the door, we have to take them.”At Avon Elementary Principal Barbara Collins, who just had to open a fifth kindergarten class, attributes the growth to boundary changes. The Eagle County School Board decided last May to send children who live Miller Ranch in Edwards and Buffalo Ridge in Avon to Avon Elementary instead of Meadow Mountain in Eagle-Vail, adding an additional 75 students school-wide, bringing the total to 354 students. Last year,there were fewer students at while numbers at Meadow Mountain numbers were up. “We had to transfer students,” Neff says. “We have to look at it district-wide.” Collins also says Edwards’ dual-language program, in which kids learn in English and Spanish, is a factor in the kindergarten number increase at Avon. Neff says Edwards Elementary School is slowly becoming a sort of magnet schoo and students who don’t want to be in dual language classes will go to Avon.But none of this doesn’t fully account for the upsurge in kindergartners. “We thought we’d adjusted for those students,” Strakbein says. “This is more than just that.”

Cyndy Secrist, principal at Eagle Valley Elementary, however, says the most important thing isn’t the numbers. “I can tell you I see a whole bunch of happy kids having a blast learning,” she says. “I think that’s where we need to have it I, where it’s fun to learn.”==========================================Fulll-time kindergarten should boost gradesWith new federal funding and scholarships from the Vail Valley Foundation, more and more students are going to kindergarten full-time.Cyndy Secrist, principal at Eagle Valley Elementary School, has two kindergarten classes with four part-time students”With five days a week, we feel we have a better routine for kids,”says Carolyn Neff, the Eagle County School District’s director of elementary education. “That is what almost every other kindergarten in the state is doing.”

The majority of a kindergartner’s day is spent on reading and math, though other subjects are taught in the afternoon. “I think the biggest plus is that having students here all day gives us a chance to work on basic literacy and basic math concepts,” says Heather Eberts, principal at Brush Creek Elementary. “We know those are the foundation on how students do on academic achievement.” Red Hill Principal Nancy Alex. says she’s optimistic students who attended kindergarten full-time will do better in school. Secrist says the classes will also help students score well on state-mandated tests. “I believe it will make a difference in school achievement,” Secrist says. “With the new mandates from the state, and the expectations for children, we really need this full-time kindergarten.”- Connie Steiert==========================================Vail, Colorado

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