FORT LEWIS, Wash. - Helping the children of Army families deal with the unique challenges they face in their schooling is always a priority for Fort Lewis leaders. That is true, even for the youngest of students.

Fort Lewis is one of eight Army installations selected to test a new pre-kindergarten program called Strong Beginnings, which will start here Jan. 5.

"This is a pilot program for children 4 1AcA "2 to 5 years old who will be starting kindergarten in September 2009, and we will be testing it for one year," said Barb McPherson, Child Development Services administrator, Child, Youth and School Services.

Under the Army Family Covenant, leaders strive to help parents raise their families.

"The Army is looking at this as a way of improving school readiness," McPherson said. "When our children reach kindergarten, we want them to have the skills that will ensure their success in the public school setting."

The program provides a specific school-readiness curriculum that includes reading, writing, math and science.

"They will start to understand discovery and exploration and learn how to be excited about it," McPherson said.

To make Strong Beginnings available to as many children as possible, it will be divided.

All pre-kindergarten children already enrolled for full-time care at Clarkmoor, Beachwood and Madigan child development centers will not have to go through registration or pay additional fees. They will attend Strong Beginnings, 8 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., five days a week.

Other pre-kindergarten children will have the opportunity to attend morning or afternoon sessions of Strong Beginnings at the North Fort School Age Center.

The morning session will be from 8 a.m. to noon and the afternoon session will be from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m.

"Both parts of Strong Beginnings are scheduled to start Jan. 5 and the classes will run through the first part of June," McPherson said.

Parents of pre-kindergarten children who are not in all-day care can register their children at the Central Registration Office at the Teen Zone, Building 2295. Priority will be given according to Department of Army guidance, McPherson said. If the classes fill a waiting list will be maintained.

About 200 Fort Lewis pre-kindergarten children currently enrolled at CDCs are expected to participate in the Strong Beginnings program. And the program won't end with the schoo year; a Strong Beginnings summer camp will also be offered.

Norma Melo, director, youth Education Support Services, will serve as a liaison between Strong Beginnings and local school districts, with the goal of making it easier for children to transition into the public schools. Teachers in Strong Beginnings will network public school teachers to discuss how to make the program most effective.

"I am excited about the Strong Beginnings pre-kindergarten program," Melo said.

"It mirrors the state's pre-kindergarten programs in Head Start and the Early Childhood learning programs," she said. "Our children will be exposed to real-world preparation, providing them with many of the skills they will need to be ready to learn from day one in kindergarten."

Melo said she hopes Strong Beginnings provides a valuable service for both the pre-kindergarten children and their parents.

"The curriculum will be individualized to meet the children where they are at developmentally," McPherson said. "The teachers will plan individualized programs to help the learning progress of each child."

Student performance will be documented and shared with parents, to keep them involved, too, McPherson said.

"We are excited that we are offering a program that ensures our children will be setup for success and will be fully ready," she said.

For more information, call (253) 967-2494.

Barbara L. Sellers is a reporter with Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16