Teachers at Todd Early Learning Center in Aurora work hard prepare at-risk children for kindergarten, whether it's help with pre-reading or motor skills, recognizing colors or getting along with peers.
Accomplishment is important " ... so when they get to kindergarten they can be ready to attend" and jump into academics, Principal Laurie Klomhaus said Tuesday.
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Complicating the teachers' work is they have to herd their charges around a four-story building that is 125 years old.
Todd Tuesday was an example of two points made during the visit of Peter Cunningham, the U.S. Department of Education's assistant secretary for communications and outreach: President Obama wants to improve early childhood education and modernize school buildings as part of an economic stimulus plan.
"Schools and districts are so tight (financially) that they are forced to make decisions that are not in the best interest of the kids," Cunningham said.
The president has proposed spending $25 billion to improve the infrastructure at at least 35,000 public schools. East Aurora District 131 could receive about $4.5 million, and West Aurora District 129 $2.6 million, according to Cunningham, under the American Jobs Act.
"Infrastructure needs to include schools," West Aurora Superintendent Jim Rydland said.
East Aurora Superintendent Jerome Roberts agreed.
"The definition of infrastructure needs to be expanded. Our schools have to be wired. But getting Internet access for every teacher in every school is expensive," Roberts said.
Internet access at schools is especially important because many of the students don't have a computer at home, Rydland and Roberts said. Seventy-nine percent of District 131 students come from a low-income family, and 57 percent of District 129's, according to the 2011 state report cards.
At Jewel Middle School in North Aurora, Cunningham saw a pilot program where students can learn 10 foreign languages via the Internet in a laboratory.
"Technology is finally making us able to offer as many languages as New Trier (High School) has for the last 20 years," said Mike Chapin, District 129's community relations coordinator.
Rydland said fewer than half of incoming kindergartners in District 129 are ready for it. About 300 children attend Todd to remedy that, but the district could serve 1,200 if it had the room, he said.
Cunningham said the Education Department wants to develop measurable standards for early learning to assess students' achievements.
"There is no real standard of what good stuff looks like," he said. Programs range from academic to "glorified baby-sitting."
Rydland made sure special education preschool teacher Debbie Wojtak told Cunningham how she measures progress with Todd students. Goals are set even for something that seems rudimentary, such as pointing to and recognizing colors and letters, or drawing loops and sticks in shaving cream on a table, which develops fine-motor skills in preparation for writing. "We are constantly re-evaluating the students," she said.
Cunningham said the feds are interested in schools as resources to especially help children who may not receive much academic and social support at home. Noting schools already have the facilities and equipment that could be used after school, he asked, "How do we keep them open without breaking the bank? These schools should be open as much as possible."