Austin ISD PK4 Newsletter

May 2016

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From the Director

Happy Marvelous May!

Jacquie Porter, Director of Early Childhood

Welcome to May. May is a unique month filled with lasts and special events. It is also a month of thinking about winding up the year and looking ahead to next year. That can make for some hectic times. With so much happening in May, we want to keep you informed and put vital information at your fingertips so you don't waste valuable time searching for the information you need.

I know you are finalizing plans for summer, so we have included summer professional development offerings within this newsletter. Many of you have questions about HB4. In case you missed the team leader meeting or the webinar, we have included some information in this newsletter. May can be a tough month for young children as the consistent routine that you have developed will sometimes have to be deviated from and will cause some anxiety. We are so grateful to Becky Flynn in our SEL dept for some tips on helping students self regulate.

I am looking forward to Salute!, The AISD event in May where we honor our Teachers of the Year for the campus, Teachers of Promise, Nationally Board Certified Teachers as well as naming our District wide honorees. I know several of you are being honored from your campus, but I wanted to say to all of our prekindergarten teachers, how grateful I am that you teach amazing lessons everyday. You are what makes AISD so incredible. Have a Marvelous May!

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News & Information

House Bill 4

We have been talking about HB4 for about two years now. We are excited that the Texas Legislature has set aside funding for high quality prekindergarten programs. AISD applied for these grant funds in May and will find out in July if we received funding.

If we receive funding:

1. All prekindergarten teachers would be required to take 30 additional professional development hours during 2016-2017. This is very exciting. We are looking forward to 4 separate trainings that will be done during school time. (You will have choices of dates.) The training will help us to solidify best practice within AISD and will count for your 30 professional development hours.

2. We will also be doing some work around engaging families. This will change the way your family visits will look during staggered start, but we will send you information next month on how the changes could look. It will be important that all prekindergarten families get a separate family visit and not just an open house event.

3. Want to know more about HB4? We will include more information in next month's newsletter, but you can also go online to the TEA website to read their FAQ.

EOY Engage for TLI Schools

The EOY Assessment window for TLI campuses is May 2nd- May 13th, 2016.

Please ensure that you are assessing in “Wave 3.” It is probably already set to "Wave 3" but check to make sure. Teachers can change the assessment wave at the top-right of the class view under the assessment tab. Unfortunately, we are not able to move data from one wave to another so make sure you are assessing in Wave 3. If you need assistance, please contact Irene or Liana.

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Attention Team Leaders!

Please fill out the form below to let us know who the PK team and team leader will be for next school year. Here is a direct link to the form if you have trouble filling it out below:

Summer Professional Development

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Summer Institute Session Descriptions

Click the button below for a viewable and printable version of the summer institute session descriptions. Don't forget to register on HCP for the summer institute!
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Free Workshop for Parents!

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The Thinkery has developed an outreach program for ages 2-kinder where they take workshops into schools and early childhood centers. This is great news since it can sometimes be difficult to take small children out on field trips. This will give children the experience in their own classrooms. There are currently no scholarships or discounts for Title I schools. Go to this link for more information:
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PPCD Information

PPCD Livebinder

Susan Armstrong, PPCD Teacher @ Cowan Elementary

Do you ever wish that you had PPCD forms, instructional planning guides, and activities in one handy document? Our district’s PPCD program has developed a digital notebook that is one central source of resources, including curriculum modifications, interventions, communication strategies, legal requirements, classroom videos, and other supports. Everything is organized by tabs and sub tabs. You can find it through the Cloud by typing PPCD or you can use the link The access key is PPCD1.

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Upcoming Themes

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We are very lucky to have talented and professional PK4 teachers in AISD! It is everyone's goal to make our program developmentally appropriate and use best practice in all that we do! We also have the support of our PK Guidelines that uses phrases such as "fine motor is integrated into learning centers", "developmentally appropriate practice", focus on process", and "sample-free".

If you are teaching PK4 this year or plan to teach it next year, this is a good time to evaluate your classroom activities. There should never be color sheets, tracing sheets, or worksheets in a PK4 classroom. If you need ideas for alternative activities, please seek support from anyone in the Early Childhood Department.

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Literacy Corner

Retelling and Acting Out Stories

Liana Young, EC TLI Specialist

Retelling and acting out stories nurture a love of language and literacy! With all the emphasis on standards and assessment, they can be like a breath of fresh air. They can add imagination, creativity, and FUN to your classrooms!

Children acquire many skills from acting out and retelling stories:

  • Children’s oral language skills, vocabulary and narrative understanding are enhanced. These skills are identified as key predictors in reading skills; they are the basis for comprehension.
  • Children find deeper meaning in stories as they retell them. They become part of the stories, interacting with materials, and this engagement creates a deeper, more personal connection to the story.
  • Children learn about sequencing and story elements.

How to encourage acting out and retelling stories:

  • Read stories that are interesting and repetitive in nature such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar, We’re Going on a Lion Hunt, The Little Engine that Could.
  • Provide dramatic play props or felt board pieces. The more concrete cues we can provide the children, the more comfortable they become in retelling the story and they assist children in making the stories come alive.
  • Give children time to retell or act out stories.
  • Have fun and engage in the activity with the children!
  • Remember to provide children specific feedback about their abilities as storytellers. For example, at the conclusion of the performance, say “What great storytellers you are!”
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End of the Year Activities

It's hard to believe that the end of the year is upon us. May is the month when we are challenged to keep children motivated and engaged. With a whole month of learning ahead teachers are tasked with funneling students' energy into constructive and meaningful learning activities.

Take time to browse the activities on Pinterest. Find some fun activities to keep your students engaged and learning during these last weeks of school to give them that final boost to be ready for kindergarten.

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What is Self Regulation?

Becky Flynn, SEL Specialist

As schools in AISD implement Peace Areas or Safe Places, one frequently hears the term “self-regulation”. This area in the classroom is made available to students in order to help them develop the skills needed in order to “self-manage” or “self-regulate” their emotions. Below is a definition of self-regulation and its implications.

Self-regulation is the ability to monitor and manage your energy states, emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in ways that are acceptable and produce positive results such as well-being, loving relationships, and learning. It is how we deal with stressors and it lays the foundation for emotional intelligence, efficient filtering of sensory stimulation, coping effectively with stress, relating well to others, and sustaining focus.

Self-regulation involves the whole person/child:

Physical: biology, temperament

Emotional: personality, exposure to trauma, ability to inhibit impulses

Mental: focus, shifts of focus, control, management of distractions and frustration

Social: interpersonal interactions, empathy, values

Self-regulation takes energy. When a child acts out or melts down, it is because s/he has no fuel for managing stressors. That’s why it’s important to notice or inquire about what stresses your students and what soothes them: to teach them mindfulness skills; to play with them, to make sure they get exercise, and plenty of rest.

Dr. Stewart Shanker uses a car analogy to explain self-regulation, which I have paraphrased:

Self-regulation is like maintaining a consistent rate of acceleration. If we want to go 25mph, then we will need to adjust the pressure to the accelerator to allow for changes to the road, incline, and wind. Driving requires constant changes depending on traffic conditions and speed zones etc. Learning to accelerate, brake, and change gears smoothly takes time and practice. This is quite similar to children learning to self-regulate. Some children are always pushing too hard on the accelerator, while others jump between gears quickly, and some are slow to accelerate. Children need time and support to master the ability to find and sustain their optimum speed and level of arousal while dealing with a range of stimuli and stressors.

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Sensory Play!

Outdoor Music Wall

Take a look at these music walls from First Presbyterian Day School! Remember outdoor time is the perfect time to include sensory play for children. If you are interested in creating a music wall at your school, be creative and use old pots and pans, hanging silverware, etc. Check out our new pinterest board, "Outdoor Environments", for more ideas on how to spruce up your outdoor space for young children.
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Marvelous Math!

Count & Smash Activity

This fun counting activity integrates sensory input while also strengthening students' fine motor skills. Prepare a tray with play dough and some "smashing" tools such as a plastic hammer, legos, cubes, etc. The student makes play dough balls prior to beginning the game. Then, the student rolls the number cube and counts out that number of play dough balls. Once the play dough balls are lined up, the student chooses a smashing tool, to smash the balls as they count! Much more engaging than just using their finger to count the balls.

Activity from:

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Gail's Gardening Gazette

Understanding Life Cycles - Full Circle

By now your children have learned about the life cycles of many organism...plants, butterflies, ladybugs, etc. But how do you help them understand that all living organisms will eventually die? Some teachers feel like it is not there place to bring up the word "death".

How do you explain the lifeless body of a bug or a dried-up plant found in the garden? Do you ignore it or take the time to mention that all living things eventually die. A butterfly might die shortly after it lays it's eggs; a flower dries up at the end of it's showy bloom cycle.

Take the time to find things on your campus or in your garden that might be dead (or dying), and use it as an opportunity to see if your student have questions or explanations for this part of the organisms cycle. Remember, when some plants die, they leave behind seeds that can be collected for next years garden. Thus the students can reflect back on the plants full life cycle, from planting the seeds in the garden, to gathering the seeds for the students who will be in their teachers class next year.

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Classroom Environment

Physical Environments and Learning

Amber McDaniel, Special Education Coordinator

Recent advances in neurology research show that our physical environments impact growth in our brains. Environments that leave a student feeling safe and calm are more likely to impact learning in a way that is positive than environments that create anxiety or stress. Temperature, access to sunlight and vegetation in a room impact how we feel, hear, see and learn.

The temperature of a room influences the amount of academic content students retain. Research shows that students’ reading comprehension declines when room temperature rises above 74 degrees Fahrenheit and math skills decline when room temperature rises above 77 degrees Fahrenheit. Warm rooms tend to trigger aggression and anxiety. Cooler, but not cold, is better than warmer or hot when it comes to creating an environment that supports learning. Research indicates that the optimal temperature for learning is approximately 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Access to sunlight also impacts learning for students. In one study, some students were given access to sunlight, while other students were exposed to increasingly less amounts of sunlight in the classroom. The results of the study showed that the students exposed to the most amount of sunlight progress on math and reading tests 20-26% faster than students in the study exposed to the least amount of lighting. In another study, researchers determined that 50 percent of children developed academic or health deficiencies as a result of insufficient light at school. When considering the overall findings from various students on lighting, we can conclude that indirect, natural sunlight is best for learning.

What children see in their physical environment can also impact learning! Research suggests that students perform better when they have a view of vegetation and/or vegetation is incorporated into the classroom environment. Some teachers incorporate plants into their classroom as a way to decrease anxiety for students and create an environment that supports learning. Using colors such as warm yellow and light blue will calm overactive students and support cognition.

Physical environments are important! For students to learn, grow, behave and perform optimally, do your best to orchestrate a powerful learning environment incorporating the elements of temperature, natural light and visual appearance!

- Adapted from Teaching with the Brain in Mind by Eric Jensen

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Stress Busting Tips for Teachers

By the time the school day has ended you've probably made more decisions than a Fortune 500 executive, been on your feet longer than a marathon runner, negotiated peace agreements any diplomat would envy, and given your vocal cords a workout. What can you do to reduce the stress? You can't check into a spa for six weeks, but you can benefit from this collection of stress-busting strategies that we've collected on our AISD Early Childhood Pinterest board!
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Classroom Spotlight

Spring Chicks

Last week children all over the district were marveling at the sight of chicks hatching in their PK classrooms! This is an amazing experience where children have the opportunity to see a real life-cycle. The children in this picture are from Thelma Herrera's classroom at Mathews Elementary, one of our many campuses to provide this learning experience for their students. AISD Early Childhood ROCKS!
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Professional Development

There are no professional development offerings in May. Check out our summer PD offerings at the top of this newsletter!!

About Us

Jacquie Porter, Director

Debra Caldwell, Administrative Assistant

Diane Smith, Data Processing Assistant

Marlene Beldin, Clerk

Irene Campos, EC TLI Specialist

Brian Mowry, EC Specialist

Robbie Polan, Childcare Liaison

Melinda Servantez, EC Specialist

Sylina Valdez, Administrative Supervisor

Liana Young, EC TLI Specialist