Tuesday, December 16, 2008

License to learn: District extends HeadSprout

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Education starts in the home, and parents throughout the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District had a tool this summer to start kids off on the right track before they ever set foot in a classroom.

The district bought licenses to HeadSprout last spring, a phonics-based reading program on the Internet, and made the program available to parents of incoming public-school kindergarteners.

The measure was an attempt to fill the void of a pre-kindergarten program in the district — a void created because the state doesn’t fund preK programs for the general school population (see related story, page 1). With HeadSprout, parents could log their kids onto the program on the Web, and they could work through the lessons over the summer.

The program boasts successful results in teaching phonics and beginning reading to kindergarteners, and in being a tool to help struggling older readers. So far it seems to be successful in KPBSD, said Doris Cannon, director of early education for the district. It was developed through extensive research about the way kids learn, Cannon said. Every element of the program is field tested with kids, from the critters they interact with to the sound effects and even the number of times the program will prompt kids to give an answer.

At the halfway point of the school year, Cannon said the program appears from anecdotal evidence to be working well.

“I’m pleased with what has been done with it. With any new programs you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get,” she said.

She heard from 25 to 30 parents about the program. Of those, only one didn’t like it, she said.
HeadSprout is now being used in classrooms, and as an intervention tool for older readers needing extra help in grades one and two.

“(Evidence) shows these kids who used it did fine in school when they got here and didn’t get caught up in the intervention process. It’s been well-received by the parents, and the kids are doing well with it,” Cannon said.

Five hundred eighty-six licenses are shown as being in use in the district. Of those, the district estimates that about half are actually in regular use. Cannon hopes to see those numbers grow, and the district has decided to continue licensing the program for another four years.

Nikiski North Star Elementary School is one of about five schools actively using the program.
Teachers reported some mixed results — it works for some and not others.

Nikiski North Star preK teacher Denise Cox said it’s a little too advanced for some students, but others do well with it when they’re ready. Kindergarten and first-grade teacher Robin Thye said she doesn’t use it much in her room, but from what she’s seen the program moves quickly and the kids seem to enjoy it.

Principal Lori Manion said she’s happy with the results so far.

“There’s a group of kids out there that have really taken off with it,” Manion said. “There’s definitely a need for it. From all I heard from parents, they really enjoy it and think it’s a very focused activity for (the kids) to be doing.”

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