By Katie Dahlstrom
Herald Staff Writer
To an outsider it might look like Bluff Elementary preschool teachers Denise Bussie and Sara Feldpausch spend their days watching kids play with animal figurines, doll houses and clay.
During an afternoon session, preschool student Wyatt Struve zooms by Bussie with a big red dog.
“Is the dog flying?” Bussie asked her energetic student.
“No, dogs don’t fly,” he replied, before asking para-educator Terry Burkert to help him assemble an animal family with the assortment of figurines laying on the table.
Preschool Program Coordinator David Bloom watched the short exchange. To Bloom, it was much more than a unremarkable play-time moment.
“Listen to all the language development going on,” he said.
This is the second year for preschool at Bluff Elementary. Students attend either a morning or afternoon session for 2 1/2 hours five days a week.
Each session can accommodate up to 20 students made up of 4-year-old general education children or 3-year-old special education children. The sessions are lead by two certified teachers, one general education and one special education as well as two para-educators.
“It’s the start of their formal education,” Bussie said. She and Feldpausch also taught the inaugural year of preschool at Bluff.
“You see them learn and the light bulb goes off,” Feldpausch said.
Last year, the two saw students grow in exciting ways. Some left reading, while others who began the year without verbal interaction left openly communicating with classmates.
The classroom has 10 centers that allow teachers to work one-on-one with students in a variety of activities.
“This room is structured to provide a lot of adult contact,” Bloom said. Preschool is much more than what appears on the surface, Bloom explained. In addition to developing language, students also develop skills interacting with fellow classmates such as problem solving and imagination building.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan links early learning with success throughout life. During a speech at the National Institute for Early Education Research Duncan said the impacts of preschool can reach decades into a person’s life.
“It helps to lower the rates of remedial education before entering college—and increases the odds of completing college. Literally, decades later, high-quality early learning programs even increase employment rates and earnings,” Duncan said.
Tracy Wey has been a kindergarten teacher for nine years. She said with the increasing focus on academics in kindergarten, preschool has been advantageous for students and teachers alike.
“It’s a good stepping stone,” Wey said. “You can tell socially and academically.”
The preschool program at Bluff is one of eight in Clinton including a new program at Jefferson. The district partners with outside agencies to provide the preschool education to students at no cost.
Bluff Elementary Principal Mark Bloom said he feels fortunate to have the program at his school.
“It’s really added to our climate and culture,” he said. “It’s a positive because kids are getting a mindset for what school is like.”
Parents or guardians who are interested in enrolling their student in preschool can do so through any of the participating programs or by visiting the Clinton School District Administration Center.