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American Falls begins new initiative to prepare students for all day kindergarten and dual immersion classes

March 13, 2019

The American Falls School District is beginning a ReadTalkPlay Every Day initiative, seeking to increase kindergarten preparedness.

For the campaign, the district is partnering with the United Way of Southeast Idaho, as well as Kids Read Now, a group that provides books for students.

Superintendent Randy Jensen said elementary school students will receive four books in May, and after they have read them, they will receive five additional books throughout the summer. The district is also working on developing a calendar with a different activity idea every day, and they hope to soon have business partners who will help them expand the initiative.

According to Jensen, fewer than 20 percent of American Falls students come prepared for kindergarten. Jensen said new students are consistently missing basic knowledge of letters, colors and numbers, as well as the social skills needed to successfully integrate into a classroom setting.

And starting next fall, all kindergarteners in the district will have full-day, every-day kindergarten. Currently, Jensen said about half the students attend half-day kindergarten while the others attend full-day.

“We just thought it was important for kids to have full-day kindergarten,” Jensen said.

The district will also be implementing a Spanish immersion program in the fall, which Jensen said is yet another reason to ensure every child is up to speed.

“Dual immersion is tough,” he said. “It’s not easy. So kids are going to have to be more prepared than ever to be prepared for that program.”

This initiative, Jensen hopes, will help with that.

“We want a total community buy-in,” Jensen said. “We want employers to stress it with their employees. We want businesses to stress it with their customers. We just want people to see the words ReadTalkPlay everywhere they go.

Though reading and talking is important to ensuring a child’s success in school, Jensen said the play aspect of the initiative is not to be overlooked.

“Play might be the most important one, really,” he said. “We want parents spending time with their kids, just playing and having fun. It also helps kids develop social skills, and that’s another really important marker of kindergarten preparedness. And the best part of play is that it’s a positive, happy interaction.”

Jensen said he believed the Spanish immersion program would also help with social skills, as it may force kids to get out of their comfort zones and interact with students they otherwise might not.

“It ends the stigma (between Spanish speakers and non-Spanish speakers),” Jensen said. “It just mixes all the kids together. So we feel it will help the school and in five or 10 years, it will also help our whole community.”

Currently, about half of the students starting kindergarten in the district only speak Spanish. Jensen said this program will help them as much as it will help the English speaking students.

“While they may speak Spanish, they may not be literate in Spanish,” he said. “It also gives them a chance to be top dog in the class.”