Belen elementary students to get a jump start

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Students will get a chance to master their grades' subject matter this summer.

The Belen Consolidated Schools will offer an early childhood education program, K-3 Plus, that extends the school year by 25 days for participating kindergartners through third-graders.

The extra days will focus on subject matter from the student's finished grade level and will be reviewed at a slower pace to allow for mastery of core concepts. The program is set to begin July 2 and continue through Aug. 7 at all Belen elementary schools.

Parents can enroll their children in kindergarten for the 2013-14 school year and the K-3 Plus program at the BCS' Kindergarten Registration Drive from 11 a.m. to noon, Tuesday, May 28, at the Belen Transportation Department.

The purpose behind K-3 Plus is to illustrate that increased education time in these early grades decreases "the achievement gap between disadvantaged students and other students, increases cognitive skills and leads to higher test scores for all participants," states the New Mexico Public Education Department's website.

The program is intended to measure the affect of additional time dedicated toward literacy, numeric and social skills development, according to website.

"A lot of people realize that the stronger your foundation is in the K-3 grades, the better your success is going to be for your educational career," said Superintendent Ron Marquez.

Not only are those early grade levels important, but so are the ages for learning, he said.

Pre- and post-tests in reading and math will highlight if the program does indeed aid students' future educational success, said Dennis Chavez Elementary School Principal Rita Martinez.

The Discovery Education Assessment, provided by the district, reveals scores in a variety of subjects increase as the year goes on, but decline back down after students come back from a three-month summer break, said Gil Sanchez Elementary School Principal John Caldarera.

"We build them up all year and then we lose all of that over the summer," Caldarera said.

More instructional days should shorten the catch-up time, Martinez said.

House Bill 198, established in 2007, created a fund to allow statewide public schools to extend their school year with the six-year pilot project. Belen schools is the 23rd district to add this program.

The district received a $719,000 state grant providing 610 slots for the program. Human Resources Director Jennifer Brown said if more slots are needed, the district can apply for additional funds.

The program doesn't teach children information for their upcoming grade level, but assures they have learned the past year's core subjects in depth, said Martinez.

"They won't be ahead, but they would have mastered the concepts where as the other children may not have had enough time to reach that level of mastery during the school year," Martinez said.

The program runs Monday through Friday. Students will be picked up, begin classes and finished classes at the same time as a regular school day.

The district's 2013 Summer Food Service Program is offered in conjunction with the program, providing students with breakfast and lunch, Marquez said.

This program will replace a similar program offered last year. Start Smart: New Mexico K-3 Plus Extended School Year-Validation Study was a cost-effectiveness analysis of the extended school year for kindergarten through third grade, determining the impact of an extended school year on children's learning over time.


-- Email the author at aortiz@news-bulletin.com.