New kindergarteners show their skills

Wednesday, August 18, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:15 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

They sit squirming in front of her, kicking feet that don’t quite touch the ground, gazing in awe at walls covered with brightly colored pictures and letters of the alphabet. The woman across the table carefully asks her audience to name the letters in front of them. As they stare down at the paper with their faces twisting in concentration, the interrogator smiles when they don’t know the answer.

“We’ll learn that when you come to school,” says Nancy Amelunke, a kindergarten teacher at Cedar Ridge Elementary School.

Amelunke is testing students on a variety of skills, from counting to 30 to cutting out shapes with scissors to galloping across the room. These tests are not to determine whether the students are “ready” for kindergarten, but to gauge their skill level.

“They are coming to our school, and we want to be prepared to teach them what they need to know,” she says.

Amelunke’s first objective is to make sure the kids are comfortable. First they draw pictures of themselves and write their names. Then she asks them questions such as, “What’s your favorite food?”

Garrett Klenke professes his love for corndogs.

“Do you like to go to the fair and eat them?” Amelunke says.

“I like to eat them anywhere,” Garrett responds. After dispensing with the pleasantries, Amelunke moves on to more difficult questions. She asks the children how many plastic bears she has placed in front of them and where to begin reading a book. When they struggle with any task, Amelunke is quick to remind them why they’re coming to school in the fall.

“We’re going to practice how to do that in kindergarten, and you’re going to get really good,” she says.

Chelsey Ward alternates between staring open-mouthed at her new school, Parkade Elementary, and spinning pirouettes in the hallway. She says she does not know what to expect in the year ahead.

“I don’t know,” Chelsey says. “I’ve never been to school.”

She may not know exactly what will happen, but she says she is ready. She has a new lunchbox, a backpack and markers for the big day. She looks forward to playing outside with her new classmates, but she has one concern.

“When do I know when recess is?” Chelsey says.

Darius Goldman is excited to play games and learn numbers. He came to testing with his mother and brother Oscar, 12, who attends Lange Middle School. Darius was reluctant to leave his brother behind when he went into the room, but Oscar is ready for the separation.

“I’ve been with my little brother for two whole months,” Oscar says.

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