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Asst. principal cites need for pre-school classes in Sunnyside

Washington Elementary School Assistant Principal Diann Zavala presented the Sunnyside School Board with a report this week about implementing a pre-school program.

Zavala told the school board pre-school can serve as an important tool for preventing literacy problems in students.

Zavala cited many risk factors in the area concerning delaying early literacy development. One of the major issues is poverty. Zavala more than 80 percent of Sunnyside's elementary students qualify for free or reduced lunches. She also said that 40 percent of the district's kindergarten students need classes to learn English. A total of 196 out of 490 kindergarten students this year come from a home where Spanish is the dominant language.

Zavala also pointed out several risk factors for children involving parents. Based on the 2000 Sunnyside census, for participants 25 years of age and older, 52 percent of Hispanic females and 56 percent of Hispanic males have less than a ninth grade education. Zavala also pointed out that 16 percent of Anglo females and 46 percent of Anglo males in Sunnyside have less than a ninth grade education. Only 1 percent of Hispanic males and females in Sunnyside have a four-year degree based on the 2000 census. 10 percent of Anglo females and 4 percent of Anglo males have a four-year degree.

Zavala said the more education parents have the better off their child will do in school, and especially in literacy. Zavala cited research that showed a 4-year-old child from a family whose mother has a college degree has more vocabulary than an adult who is on federal assistance. A 4-year-old child whose mother has a college education has been exposed to 45 million words. A 4-year-old child who comes from a household in poverty has only been exposed to 13 million words.

"We are at a very high risk for early literacy delays," said Zavala.

It is important for children to develop their language skills early on, said Zavala. Zavala read a rather dismal figure to the school board about how 90 percent of first grade students who are considered poor readers will have no improved reading skills by the end of the fourth grade.

Zavala said there is a need for additional pre-school programs in the community. There are numerous pre-school programs offered in Sunnyside, serving a total of 345 4-year-old children. EPIC has the largest preschool enrollment with 150 children. The Washington State Migrant Council serves another 72 children with Calvary Lutheran serving another 58.

Zavala cited a list of 114 pre-school migrant age children who are not receiving any kind of educational services.

"There definitely is a need in the City of Sunnyside (for additional pre-school programs)," said Zavala.

Zavala said after the school board meeting that she is researching the possibility of providing pre-school for all 4-year-old children in the Sunnyside School District. Currently, the district serves developmentally delayed pre-school children in a set of portables behind Chief Kamiakin Elementary School, said Zavala. The district will be moving those classrooms around to each of the elementary schools next year. Zavala said the 3-and-4-year-old children in those classes face a variety of learning problems, but more dominantly language development issues.

Zavala said it is her hope the district continues to explore implementing a pre-school program. Zavala said a pre-school transition class can help address some of the learning issues, such as language development, that teachers are having to deal with. Zavala said the main obstacle in implementing a pre-school program is funding.

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