Kindergarten curriculum incorporates Native culture
■ By Mike Hiles / Contributed
To make sure parents and students know they will have an exciting time in the classroom next school year, staff at the Soboba Tribal Preschool hosted a registration party. When the week ended, 19 students were successfully registered for kindergarten.
“We had a western-themed display in the lobby,” said teacher Cindy Lee. “Woody from Toy Story sat near the entrance to welcome the children each day while country music filled the room. All the teachers dressed in western style for the week. They enjoyed being creative with bandanas and cowboy boots.”
“Wanted” posters with pictures and names of students who have been attending preschool and are ready to enter kindergarten were posted throughout the lobby. As each child was signed up, the posters were changed from “wanted” to “captured.”
“You can definitely feel a positive vibe when you walk in the school,” said Lee. “We have two employees working at the preschool that reside on the reservation. They both have enrolled their students in our private kindergarten for next year. It is a great compliment to know that we have their support and trust in our program.”
The private kindergarten class caps at 20 students, so by the end of the week there was room for one more.
“It is a good number for kindergarten ratios,” said Director Dianne King. “The public school has more children per classroom, and we like to keep a good ratio of teacher to child. Cindy Lee is our credentialed teacher for the class; she will have a full-time aide this year to help her with the students.”
Soboba tribal members receive priority for the private kindergarten class and of the 26 pre-kindergarten students currently attending the preschool, seven plan to join older siblings at local public elementary schools.
King said the biggest advantage to being able to keep the students together after preschool is that it allows them to explore their culture while learning the required curriculum.
“The smaller ratios in the classroom allow the teachers to work with them individually and differentiate for their individual needs,” she said. “Self-confidence becomes more prevalent as they become the oldest group in the school. We offer a full-day program with after-school tutoring available. We also offer monthly educational field trips for the kindergarten program.”
Lee said the program is designed to prepare and exceed the first-grade academic expectations.
“As with any program, it requires parent support,” she said. “We can definitely see above-average progress in the children who attend regularly and complete homework. All our current children are reading confidently and ready for first grade.”
Some public schools have begun offering transitional kindergarten classes for students who are not five years old by Sept. 1. Instead of making them wait an entire year before they can start kindergarten, the schools offer a Pre-K class for kids who will be five years old by Nov. 1.
Lee said the Soboba kindergarten class is open to students whose fifth birthday falls in September, then at the end of the school year they are assessed for first-grade readiness.
“As of yet, we have not had a child repeat kindergarten,” said Lee.
She said the students focus a lot on speaking skills so the children learn to be comfortable speaking in front of their peers and the other preschoolers in the school.
“Our hands-on science and social studies program allows the children to experiment in small groups,” said Lee. “We have the opportunity to take our time with projects and activities in the class to ensure that everyone understands before moving on.”
The Soboba first kindergarten class promoted 14 students in June 2015; this year 17 will move up. The preschool, with a dedicated staff that truly enjoys working together, has made great strides in preparing the children for public school.
Lee has worked at Soboba for more than seven years. During that time she has experienced many cultural events and has met many Native family members. With that first-hand knowledge, she incorporated Native culture into the curriculum and recruited parents to assist with many cultural activities inside and outside the classroom.
“Kindergarten is my favorite age group to teach,” said Lee. “The children are at an age when their imagination and curiosity of how things work becomes so important in their lives. They question everything and need a detailed explanation. They not only learn from me – I learn from them. When they have a question that I may not know the answer to, we must explore as a group until we find the correct answer. It’s exciting to watch their minds working.”
The tribe has many family events throughout the year and the preschool is always involved. Staff and students participated in the Elder/Youth Walk last month and the youngsters regularly visit the Elders at their meetings at the Tribal Hall, which is right next door to the preschool.
On April 4, they hopped over to the Easter luncheon to deliver special crafts they made during classes.
“Visiting the Elders each month is such a special time; it validates the bond between the generations,” said Lee.