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Waccamaw High: This year's grads spent a bit more time in school

By Sarah L. Smith
Coastal Observer

Twelve years ago, 19 5- and 6-year-olds crowded into a portable classroom at Waccamaw Elementary School.

Like other kindergartners, they learned to read, write and answer simple math problems, and also had nap time and shared stories.

What made this class special was that the students went to school all day. Until the 1996-97 school year, full-day kindergarten was only an option.

Last week, the eight who remained in Waccamaw schools walked away with high school diplomas.

Claudia Marshall, their kindergarten teacher, couldn’t believe they were graduating already.

“Has it really been that long?” she asked.

Marshall still teaches at Waccamaw Elementary. She said kindergarten is different these days. For one thing, there are no more naps.

“There was just so much mandated that it just wasn’t in the schedule any more,” she said.

The curriculum is different, too.

In 1996, opponents thought 5-year-olds were not ready for a full day of kindergarten. Now, kindergarteners are learning skills that were taught in first grade back then.

“We still have center time,” Marshall added. “They do learn a lot through play, so we like to keep that play in there.”

It’s the play that Marshall’s former students in the Class of 2009 remember.

“They had this huge water thing,” Becca Harper said. “They had cool little boats, plastic boats, and whenever we went to centers that was the cool place to go – outside with the water.”

Others remember nap time.

“The main thing I remember from that is that we had to have nap time in the middle of the class,” Matt Ciuba said. “I would never take naps. I would just lay by the toys and play.”

He also remembers wearing large glasses. “They just made my ears seem bigger.”

Brianna Freeman sees the changes 12 years made. She remembers being sleepy all the time and never being able to wake up from nap time. She wishes she could still take naps.

Brendanique Brown said she stayed awake during nap time. She kept her eyes open so she could take other kids’ toys and play with them.

Both Harper and Ciuba agreed staying in class all day helped them get ready for first grade and beyond.

“You go, and it’s fun and you’re still kind of learning a little bit. It kind of builds a little foundation,” said Ciuba.

It is a foundation that helped the eight graduates. Five had grade point averages of 4.0 to 4.49.

Harper and Lanie Parks will major in business at the University of South Carolina. Ciuba will study biology at the College of Charleston, and eventually wants to study medicine.

Matt Deegan is going to Erskine College to become a special education teacher. Lindsey Stalvey is going to Coastal Carolina University to study a science so she can become a veterinarian.

Brown will study nursing at Francis Marion University and Freeman is going to Long Island University in New York to study anesthesiology.

Marshall said 5- and 6-year-olds are ready to be at school all day. The students she had in 1996 were ready.

The need now is for full-day pre-K classes, she said.

Waccamaw Elementary has two half-day pre-K programs with 20 students in the morning and 20 in the afternoon.

Principal Vervatine Reid said that many of the students spend the other half of their day at another pre-K program.

After surveying teachers, Reid said she discovered that learning gaps are evident between students who had pre-K classes and those who did not. A full-day pre-K program would benefit the students, she said.

Celeste Pringle, associate superintendant of instruction, said if the school district had the money and space, she’d love to have a full-day pre-school program for every child.

Pringle said the earlier the district can get children into programs, the better. She said she’s seen Head Start, a program for 3- and 4-year-olds, make a difference in childrens’ behavior.

“We’ve noticed the last several years since we’ve had the Head Start programs in our buildings, because they really don’t have space or a building they can call their own, that those young people experience the rules in the buildings. They know how to walk up and down the hallways. We might take that for granted,” she said, “but it’s a heads up. That’s formal instruction.”

The early formal instruction could also help children ease into learning foreign languages, Pringle said.

“I think early start pays off formally,” she said. “We used to have foreign language teachers in all of our schools. I know a 3-year-old who knows his colors in English and Spanish. Can you imagine the grasp of that foreign language at 3 years old? If you wait until a child gets to be 15 or 16 in the older grades it’s a little more difficult for them to grasp it.”

Early exposure to structured education also helps children socially.

“I was talking to a parent the other day, and her child is in one of the 4-year-old programs,” Pringle said.

Though it was hard for the parent since she hadn’t been away from her child, Pringle said the mom loved how the program benefitted her child.

“She was talking about how much he has learned socially and academically. That early exposure benefits, evidently, the entire family structure,” she said.

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