Arizona Republic
September 30, 2006


Author: Georgann Yara, Special for The Republic Estimated printed pages: 3

Preschool teacher Tiffany Rudolph placed red-handled shovels in her students' tiny hands and guided them through their Tuesday morning task:
planting flower seeds in the grassy area just outside of their classroom at Holdeman Elementary School.

Rudolph quickly moved her preschoolers through painting, rock garden exploration and other flower-related activities that fit the day's gardening theme.

Laughter and excited squeals indicated students are having fun. However, preschool is not just about fun and games anymore.

"Things have changed," said Rudolph, whose students learn the alphabet, numbers and language skills.

The Holdeman preschool is the newest addition to the Tempe Elementary School District. It is the third in the district's long-term goal to have a preschool program on each elementary campus. The fourth, to be at Nevitt Elmentary School, will open in November and already has 16 students registered.

Holdeman Principal Gail Hales said parent feedback has been "wonderful."
Students, who must turn 4 by Dec. 31, learn skills that are a necessary part of kindergarten. These include adhering to a routine, following directions, taking turns and communicating with others. Hales said bilingual students also get a head start on English.

"A number of them have older siblings here, so they are excited because they get to go to school too. It's very cool," Hales said.

The morning class is at capacity, but there are openings for Holdeman's afternoon session.

District data shows that students who attended the older preschools at Frank and Evans earn higher literacy marks and tend to be the class leaders, said early childhood education coordinator Andrea Colby. She said teachers notice a smoother transition into kindergarten, too.

"I think that people realize now the importance of preschool and how much that helps children once they get into kindergarten," she said.

"It's not just a time to play and get along socially. It's definitely an academic program."

Rudolph said self-confidence lays the groundwork for that success.

"That's where the academics come into play. If they learn confidence in doing some things here, they will feel confident when they try to do other things," she said.

Preschool is offered free to families who live in the district and is funded completely by grants and donations. A $40,000 donation by the Tempe Diablos was key in establishing the Holdeman program this year, and a pledge of $40,000 for next year will help with future classes.

In addition to the normal duties that come with running a school district, Superintendent Arthur Tate meets with potential donors, sharing his vision in hopes their generosity can make it reality.

Diablos executive secretary Arnold Davis said Tate's compelling case made the decision to donate an easy one.

"We're all about youth and education and the betterment of the city of Tempe. His appeal was quite touching to us," he said. "If you get children involved in education early, their success rate is dramatically improved."

Tate said he is working on coordinating a fund-raising event and creating an advisory board to come up with other funding ideas. Tate said start-up costs run $100,000 per site.

He estimates the district needs $250,000 to maintain the preschools next year. This year, the Nevitt preschool is funded by a federal grant. The program is not eligible for state funds.

Preschool students are accepted based on need, whether it be economic, a language barrier or a family in transition. Tate estimated there are as many as 700 children in the district who would benefit from preschool. Class capacity is 20 students.

Hales described seeing Tate's face beaming as he watched Holdeman's preschoolers running outside and working on projects in class on their first day.

Tate recalled that morning.

"What I was feeling was knowing the benefit the kids are receiving in a school with a curriculum program with qualified staff. It was extremely satisfying," he said.

"My thought was that there was something significant happening to these children."

CAPTION: Preschool students (from left) Esmeralda Salazar, Briana Hardiman, Andrea Lewis and Earley Coleman hang out together at Holdeman Elementary in Tempe, the latest school to offer preschool classes.
Edition: Final Chaser
Section: Tempe Republic
Page: 4

Index Terms: JUVENILE
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Record Number: pho152370345