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Dranesville Offers Deeper Curriculum

All-day Kindergarten, critical thinking skills to expose students to deeper curriculum.

Throughout this past summer there has been one thing on the mind of school administrators at north Herndon-area Dranesville Elementary School: expansion of education and learning opportunities for its students.

"Research shows that early childhood is such an important time to develop literacy, critical thinking skills and really to just encourage good learning habits," said Dranesville Elementary School principal Lucinda Romberg. "We want to have a chance to expose them to as much as possible in the classroom not just to prepare them for continuing education, but to become lifelong learners."

This year, Dranesville Elementary School will welcome nearly 100 young students to its new full-day Kindergarten program while at the same time introducing the school’s approximately 650 students to a regular "strategic thinking skills" program. Both of the initiatives are designed to foster the learning skills seen as integral in future education endeavors and the real world, according to Romberg.

"It’s about doing our very best for our students," she said. "We want to impart students with these skills and the attention that they deserve so that they can have every possible advantage."

THE EXPANSION from an approximately four-hour day to a full day of instruction for the school’s Kindergarten class, which was originally discussed by the school and Fairfax County Public Schools about three years ago, was introduced to area children this year after the process was expedited by county officials, Romberg said.

The added time in the classroom is not as much about greater exposure to material as it is about regular interaction with other students, according to Chris Miller, a Kindergarten teacher at Dranesville Elementary.

"So much of academic development relies on social aspects and being able to feel comfortable talking and learning with those people who are around you," Miller said. "When children feel more socially-connected, they will see that come through in their academic performance and willing ness to learn."

An opportunity to expose all children to increased classes and learning opportunities, the school’s foreign language-speaking student population made the initiative especially important, she added. The school’s population includes about 15 percent non-native English-speaking students.

"We continue to look for new ways to help all of our children to learn, but particularly our English language learners to meet the demands of today’s education system," said Romberg. "The time in school in a structured, language-rich environment is very important in developing those language skills so that all of our children can have the opportunity to succeed in school."

GREATER OPPORTUNITIES to develop lifelong skills are made available to all students of Dranesville Elementary in the innovative environment now known as the "strategic thinking skills" lab.

A regular visit on the schedule for all students of the school, the strategic thinking skills program aims to inject mind-strengthening games and exercises into students’ normal education routine, Romberg said.

"We want children to not just see one way to solve a problem, but many ways and options," she said. "The sense of design, critical thinking, those are skills that are valued in the workplace now and will continue to be more valued in the future and we want to get students exercising those skills as often as possible."

Unlike many programs at Fairfax County Public Schools, the strategic thinking skills lab utilizes no computer games, according to Amy Albanese, Dranesville Elementary School gifted and talented specialist who is in charge of the program. Children spend their 45 minutes in the lab using playing cards to identify patterns and engaging students cooperatively in puzzles and other hands-on games, she added.

"We thought it would be a great idea to have an environment where children can come from class and play games," Albanese said, "but at the same time, they’re learning and developing lifelong skills and they might not even know about it."

All of these programs will be incorporated with FCPS’s county-wide drive to encourage "essential life skills" and good citizenship tendencies in its mind, according to Romberg.

"These are skills that children are going to see are important and even more highly sought after by employers and others in the future," she said. "It’s important that we encourage and support these skills and good habits very early on."