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A world of learning

Polson youth benefit from new preschool

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POLSON — A number of little ones are getting an early education, thanks to some grant funds.

Rhonda Crowl, principal of Cherry Valley Elementary and overseer of the new Stars Preschool, said it is one of 19 across the state that are benefitting from a two-year state grant. 

Polson received $147,000 for the first year of the program with the same number slated for next year.  

The program seeks to benefit high-risk populations, Crowl said. Native American children and those who qualify for free or reduced lunches are eligible for the program.

Janella Finkbeiner is the teacher at Stars, which uses the Opening the World of Learning, or OWL, curriculum. 

Finkbeiner said the program is academically rigorous and presents students with vocabulary and a language rich environment focusing on letter recognition. It also includes phonemics, which is the sound system of a language. It focuses on rhyming skills and a basic handwriting that involves drawing lines. 

Crowl called OWL a “really rich, engaging curriculum with lots of hands-on learning activities” that runs from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. daily. 

“It’s been a great opportunity. Our kids are making great gains,” said Finkbeiner, the school’s former Title I teacher. She said the students are “getting their feet wet” in school and working on social skills. 

Stars students had a holiday-themed program on Dec. 22 that was attended by 51 parents and community members as part of parent outreach, Crowl said. 

She is hopeful that funds will be available for the program to be renewed after the second year, but if not she is exploring the idea of turning Stars into an early kindergarten at Cherry Valley, which has had two special ed preschool classes for years. 

In addition to Stars, preschools have also been established this year at K. William Harvey and Pablo Elementary in School District No. 30. Those schools have 18 and 13 students, respectively. Pablo has room for seven additional students, a school employee said, noting their grant came in late. 

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