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Photo by Crystal Hayduk. From left Martha Piper and Sandy Lantis who teach the Young Fives program in the Chelsea District Schools.

By Crystal Hayduk

Six weeks into the school year, 4-year-old Charlotte bounces into Sandy Lantis’ Young Fives classroom at North Creek Elementary School.

Her mom, Stephanie Wolff, believes the full-day program for children who turn five between July 1 and Dec. 1 has been instrumental in helping Charlotte as she develops into a “confident little girl … We already see an amazing difference in her,” said Wolff.

Wolff credits the teacher’s patience for Charlotte’s growing security at school as she recounted her daughter’s picture day experience. “I didn’t expect much … because Charlotte never smiles for the camera. Never.” But Lantis worked with her to get her to feel comfortable. Eventually, “Charlotte smiled the biggest smile ever,” said Wolff. “And the photographer showed her how nice her smile is and it made her beam all the more. We have a school photo of our girl smiling all because Mrs. Lantis took the time to work with her.”

North Creek houses two Young Fives classrooms, following the Chelsea School District Board of Education’s approval of the program last January. Sandy Lantis and Martha Piper, who together have 55 years of experience educating young children, teach 17 children in each classroom.

Piper described the Young Fives program as “the gift of time.” Students practice fine and gross motor skills, as well as social and emotional skills. “It’s a physically busy time, in a fun, high-energy setting” said Piper.

Lantis said the students attend art, music, media, and physical education on a weekly basis, like the older students do, but adjusted to a modified pace. There is also quiet time built into the daily schedule. 

The teachers labeled the program as a “transition year,” with a lower stress level than the relatively fast-paced kindergarten. Unlike at the higher-grade levels, parents are told what their children can do; not what they can’t do.

“The kids have become part of the school,” said Lantis. They understand the school-wide theme of being part of a team; they are learning how to follow directions and be helpers.

“Research shows that Young Fivers, especially those who stay in the same building the following year, will have the confidence to become leaders when they get to kindergarten,” she said.

Dr. Luman Strong, North Creek principal, said there were three primary reasons for beginning the program. First, based on research and anecdotal evidence, the youngest kindergarten students have the most difficulty attaining academic and social growth. An extra year would give them a “running head start” to minimize the common struggles faced when beginning school.

Strong said that an increasing number of families in the Chelsea School District desired a Young Fives experience for their children, and many enrolled their children in schools outside of the district to obtain it. “We wanted to offer this for our community so they did not have to travel distances to get it,” he said.

Finally, Young Fives preschool programs charge tuition, which many families cannot easily afford. The district’s Young Fives program is free of charge to families, said Strong.

Strong praised the efforts of the Lantis/Piper team. “Both teachers bring decades of kindergarten experience and knowledge of this age group,” he said. “Both teachers have a heart and passion for this age group. And, both teachers are determined to build the best Young Fives program in the state.”

“We love it,” said Lantis. “We think it’s here to stay.”

And that’s good news for children like Charlotte and their families.

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One Response to “Chelsea School District Young Fives Program is ‘gift of time’ (with slideshow)”

  1. Lucy Stieber says:

    Congratulations to Martha and Sandy and Luman for your creative endeavors for children. My son was in a young five program and benefited greatly. With a grandson in kindergarten I see daily how much pressure is put on young children for academics rather than play and personal growth.
    Two better teacher could no have bene selected for the program. You re very caring and tuned to the needs of children. Enjoy!