Walking into Alyssa Rehder’s classroom at Grand View Elementary, you cannot help but smile as you are greeted by a flood of song as she captures the attention of a room full of active preschoolers. “I did not know that being a preschool teacher also meant being a pop star,” joked Rehder as she talked about her use of singing throughout the day to engage students in language and their learning.
From the moment a child is born through the time they enter kindergarten – and far beyond – exposure to words and numbers is foundational to brain development and school success. For Rehder and her teaching partner, Joan Scheuerman, their approach to teaching not only focuses on language through song but also on developing authentic experiences that bridge play with literacy development.
“We are encouraged to be emergent with our students and that is not always the norm across early childhood programs,” shared Scheuerman. “We create experiences that are advancing their learning, joy, wonder, and questioning.” Emergent teaching aligns curriculum and coursework to students’ rising interests and their developing skills. “It is all around their play,” added Scheuerman. “We say kids learn through play but in reality, they need to play in order to learn. They do not do that when they are just sitting and listening to a teacher talk.”
In St. Vrain, engaging students in authentic experiences takes many different forms. For our community’s youngest learners – birth to preschool – a program started last year is accelerating their exposure to language and words while also building stronger connections between parent and child.
Last year, in partnership with the OUR Center and the LENA Research Foundation, St. Vrain launched a LENA Start program in Longmont. LENA Start offers a series of classes for parents to understand the importance of literacy and provides support to increase language development skills. Once a week, children in the program wear a special vest that records a full day of their language environment, including words heard from those around them and words spoken. The recording is then processed through LENA’s technology platform, and parents receive data highlighting verbal interactions and skills that could be improved.
“It is well understood that the highest return on investment is in the earliest years,” shared Steve Hannon, President of the LENA Research Foundation. “Interactive talk (serve and return conversation) in the earliest years is super important, affecting brain structure, brain function, and long-term outcomes. LENA Start focuses on the essential skill of interactive talk so that gaps in language and vocabulary skill do not form in the first place. This way, more children enter kindergarten ready to learn.”
Recognizing the critical role of high-quality early childhood programs, St. Vrain Valley Schools has invested in 0-3 learning initiatives, implemented preschool programs across every community in the district, and launched full-day kindergarten options at every elementary school.
At Rocky Mountain Elementary, investments in rigorous and engaging STEM-focused preschool curriculum has had a significant impact on student outcomes and success, where a focus on language is even more critical. With approximately 63 percent of the student population identified as English Language Learners, language development and literacy is foundational to work across every content area and STEM lesson.
“We look for opportunities to get students to think and be problem solvers,” said Jenny Rojas, STEM Coordinator at Rocky Mountain Elementary. “We are unique at Rocky Mountain because we have a blended library space that merges a traditional library and computer lab to create a more collaborative learning environment.”
Known as the iRock Lab, this space uses technology enrichment to deepen and extend literacy and curriculum that takes place in the classroom environment. Alongside their math skills and language development, preschool students are utilizing robotics, design thinking processes, and coding. Most importantly, they are learning to understand problem-based thinking and develop solutions to complex problems.
Rojas shared, “When they have rich early childhood experiences, you can really see that when they enter fifth grade. They bring all of that to the table, and it makes a difference in what kids are able to do and how they perceive school.”
From Ms. Rehder’s and Ms. Scheuerman’s classrooms at Grand View Elementary, to the iRock Lab at Rocky Mountain, to every preschool classroom in the district, St. Vrain Valley Schools is providing a strong foundation that will support and strengthen students throughout their academic career.
“We have the responsibility of being these students’ first interaction with a school,” said Scheuerman at Grand View. “We set the tone of the curiosity and the joy of coming to this building every day, ready to learn.”