Four-year-old preschool has been a part of the La Crosse School District for eleven years.
"Everyone has recognized the importance of preschool education, and the head start that it gives students and children as they're moving into the school world," said Mark White, Preschool supervisor for the La Crosse School District.
And that's exactly what the parents of the more than 400 children who attend the program in La Crosse are looking for.
"To support the transition to kindergarten from daycare," said Tim Hanson, parent of the preschool student. "Just to get her prepared for school."
And while teachers go over some basics, the major focus of preschool is on socialization.
"We do a lot of role modeling of what is appropriate and what's not appropriate," said Jean Ann Burkard, Emerson Elementary 4-year-old preschool teacher. "And I think we have one of the most important jobs in the school district is to prepare those children for what's ahead of them."
And what's ahead of them is Kindergarten... a much different kindergarten then you and I remember.
"I would say we definitely are teaching kids more in kindergarten then we did in the past," said White. "The standards movement over the last ten years and the expectations for where students should be at the end of third grade have put some additional academic expectations into our kindergartens."
As a result, kindergarten teachers today have less time to teach kids the basics of how school works. They're moving right into academics.
"The amount of play and the time of eye contact with each other and their interactions with each other is getting to be less and less in kindergarten," said Deb Bemis, Emerson Elementary kindergarten teacher, "because we're asking them to do paper and pencil activities. And we're asking them to be focused on books. And we're asking the children to... rather than what they used to do with play and play dough and Legos. It's becoming more of what we used to see in first grade ten years ago."
Which is why kindergarten teachers like Mrs. Bemis say preschool is more important than ever before, and studies support her beliefs.
"Lots of studies that have shown that later on in life we have less special ed referrals which for school districts is a good thing," said White. "Students obviously are getting off to a better start in that respect."
Which is exactly what educators are hoping for.
La Crosse- Begins January 3, 2011; Call Julie Lawrence at 789-7006
Onalaska- Enrollment forms are online at www.onalaska.k12.wi.us
Holmen- Registration packets are being sent around January 21, 2011. If you don't receive a packet call Kristy McKnight in the Holmen School District at 783-9393.
West Salem- Registration night is Thursday, January 27, at 6:30 p.m., at West Salem Elementary School.