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Schools Welcome Youngest Learners
Today's kindergarten is yesterday's first grade.

Students just starting their school careers in the Escalon Unified School District have come in well prepared to start the year, and officials point to the need to hit the ground running, even at this young age.

"It's our fourth day of school and we're already practicing writing our names, doing our letters and writing," said Dent Elementary kindergarten teacher Marianne Conrad on Thursday. "We have really high standards in California now."

All around the room, posters and signs encouraged children to learn the 'word of the week' and the 'letter of the week' while students also took time to work with an aide individually on their names. Group time saw the youngsters sharing a snack and participating in songs and movement.

Ms. Conrad has 21 students in her class, nearly bursting at the seams. The students ran the gamut from those who came in ready to start work right away to those that are still doing a little catch up. Making sure they all reach the same level and then start progressing together, Conrad said, is the key to kindergarten.

"Having kids go to preschool, or any kind of school readiness program, that's just such a gift to the child," Conrad said. "They come in prepared to jump right in."

Ideally, Conrad added, a child will have enjoyed a mix of preschool and parental involvement, with the work done at home adding another layer to the preschool environment.

"Those kids can come in and hit the ground running, they understand school, they understand about lines and groups and waiting," Conrad said. "The best thing is a combination including parental involvement."

In her 11th year at Dent, Conrad has spent a total of 30 years teaching, 17 of those years at the kindergarten level.

"It's part of the beauty of kindergarten," she explained, "watching the flowering, the opening of their little minds ... more than in any other grade, it's a beautiful thing."

Escalon's Country Kids Child Development Center had 28 graduates from its Pre-K program and those students have now entered kindergarten. Dawn Briggs, who owns Country Kids with her husband Jeff, said they try to balance the learning and fun parts of preschool.