Young Students Given Chance To Catch Up

 Getting dressed up like a lion is a fun activity for Brannon Palestino in Mrs. Dailey’s pre-first grade classroom.

Getting dressed up like a lion is a fun activity for Brannon Palestino in Mrs. Dailey’s pre-first grade classroom. |

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Andy Towle/Roundup atowle@payson.com

Having fun with Play Doh, Hunter Reynolds makes the most of her time in Mimi Dailey’s afternoon class at Payson Elementary School).

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Andy Towle/Roundup atowle@payson.com

Getting dressed up like a lion is a fun activity for Brannon Palestino in Mrs. Dailey’s pre-first grade classroom.

“Somewhere Over the Rainbow” set to a Hawaiian tune lilts out over Mimi Dailey’s pre-first grade classroom, where roughly a dozen students sing the song and simultaneously gesture in sign language.

Christmas lights strung from the ceiling cast a soft glow and the room’s lamps, bookshelves and homey clutter make it feel like a living room.

Singing and signing the song together helps students develop their brains, Dailey said, and can also tax the students’ young minds.

They’ll even say ‘Oh, my brain hurts,’” said Dailey. “I’ll say, ‘that’s OK. You’re thinking.’”

Pre-first grade at Payson Elementary School consists of 13 students who finished kindergarten last year, but weren’t ready to enter first grade. All three elementary schools have the program, which is funded by federal Title I money. The money is geared toward helping “disadvantaged” students, both academically and economically.

Dailey said her previously low achieving students will enter first grade at the top of the class. She teaches them responsibility, patience and provides a space where children can mature and catch up before they fall behind.

Dailey calls the program, “A Gift of Time.”

“You cannot rush maturity,” she said. “They just need more time.”

Most of Dailey’s students are 6 years old, with a few 7-year-olds. This age marks a critical point in brain’s development of dialect. And so, she teaches the kids to count to 10 in Japanese, German, Hawaiian and Spanish.

“You can see them thinking,” Dailey said.

She also focuses on reading skills. For 10 minutes each day, kids work on sight words like “said” and “the.” Another 10 minutes is spent on so-called nonsense words like “wab,” and “fak,” and kids focus for another 10 minutes on sounding out letters.

Dailey tracks growth weekly. One student who could make 39 sounds per minute in November is now up to 63.

This weekly testing and focused emphasis is part of the district’s new Response to Intervention program, which, like pre-first grade, also aims to catch kids that don’t understand before they fall behind.

Students qualify for the program through low scores on a test called Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills, or by teacher recommendation.

The children are essentially getting left behind for one year, though the program’s name hides that fact from the kids.

Dailey concludes her students’ days with “centers” — various fun activities like playing with Play Doh and these circular magic markers she calls dobbers.

The activities are a reward for a day’s worth of good behavior, students who misbehaved earlier aren’t allowed to play, but they’re also another learning opportunity.

The games require periods of extended focus, which Dailey said is necessary for a successful first-grade experience.

“You have to learn to focus with distractions,” she said.

One little girl, patiently dabbing circles with a dobber, could not sit still for five minutes at the beginning of the year, Dailey said. The girl started kindergarten early in California, and then arrived in Payson unable to sit in one place.

Now, she is among the more patient and methodical of her peers.

Another student, excited and impatient, keeps pulling the dobbers out and then misplacing the caps. Dailey sits next to him and reminds the student to calm down. “You’ve got to be responsible,” she tells him. Similarly, students with Play Doh are reminded that they must take care of it, replacing it in its plastic jar.

“If it’s dry, am I going to buy more?” Dailey asks her student. “No. Because you have to be what?”

“Responsible,” the student meekly replied.

When students play, they’re actually developing higher level thinking skills, Dailey said. Today, more kids play video games, which aren’t as engaging as hands-on entertainment.

When kids play with other kids, they learn social skills, including how to lose and how to communicate.

“You can have a pooh-a-tude,” Dailey said, “or you can be an Eeyore.”

Then next year, after this gift of time, students will enter first grade, newly responsible, mature and ready to read. Maybe they’ll even teach a non-pre-first grader some Japanese.

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