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District’s 4K Program A Jumpstart for Students, and a Bargain for Parents

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Anna Torres reading to students

It could be a scene from any store. The customer had a mop and was trying to get the clerk to take it back. What you’ve probably never seen is a customer lifting the mop over the counter and trying to shove it behind the clerk, who was having none of it. This viral moment wasn’t at Home Depot or Fleet Farm, however, it was in the Dramatic Play section of Anna Torres’ 4K classroom at Luther Elementary School. 

“It’s all about learning through play,” Torres said, with a smile. “They don’t even realize sometimes how much they’re learning when they’re playing in these centers.” 

The lesson here isn’t that mops can’t be returned to tot-sized fruit stands, it’s communicating and bargaining and learning to share. 

Full-time 4-year-old  Kindergarten has been a standard offering in South Milwaukee since the 2018 referendum passed. This year, South Milwaukee has 141 students in 4K classrooms in each of the schools. The District does have some half-day classrooms serving 31 students whose parents elected for that program or applied after the all-day seats were filled. 

“Four-year-olds come to us needing to learn the basics of school,” Torres said. “Rules, regulations, expectations. Some of them just need to learn basic things, sit on the carpet, listen for an extended period of time, and learn the ABC’s.”

But it’s more than that. Half the classroom is organized as play centers where students develop social skills like learning to get along, but they will also start learning numbers and the alphabet as well as develop their small motor coordination. 

“In the beginning of the year we have them draw a self-portrait,” Torres said. “You’d be amazed at what it looks like in December, and then at the end of the school year in June.” 

By then, she said, they’ll know their letters and numbers and will be ready to start the journey of becoming readers in 5K and beyond. 

“They come very far by the end of the year,” Torres said. 

The benefits of early childhood education have been studied since the 1960s and 70s. The Learning Policy Institute said the benefits are unmistakable: “Students who attend preschool programs are more prepared for school and are less likely to be identified as having special needs or to be held back in elementary school than children who did not attend preschool. Studies also show clear positive effects on children’s early literacy and mathematics skills.”

South Milwaukee’s 4K program has become a draw for the District. Currently, 141 students are enrolled. Of those, 16 are from outside the District. Twelve others applied and decided to attend somewhere else, applied late and couldn’t be given a seat or decided to wait for 5K. That draw is significant as South Milwaukee has declining enrollment as fewer families live in the city than in previous years and parents have fewer children.

Still, for those families who do have 4-year-olds and take advantage of the program, it’s a bargain. Online childcare finder Tootris estimates that Wisconsin families pay an average of $10,197 per year or $850 per month to send their four-year-old to daycare. The School District 4K program is basically free – parents pay only a small $35 registration fee. Students have access to a high-quality curriculum, teachers with advanced degrees in early childhood education, and facilities like the District’s school playgrounds. 

“We know how important early learning is to children. Younger brains naturally absorb language and concepts and waiting until 5K misses some crucial opportunities to start students on the journey to their high school degree and beyond,” Lakeview Principal and 4K enrollment coordinator Chris Sepersky said. “Expanding from half-day 4K to full-day 4K has allowed our teachers to go deeper into content and add more learning experiences that felt a little more ‘rushed’ in the traditional half-day program. Students will learn the same things in either program - it is just that full-day students can take more time.”

Registration for the 4K program starts in January of each year for residents of South Milwaukee and between February and April becomes available to families outside of the District through the Open Enrollment Process. To make sure as many families get to take advantage of the program as possible, open seats are not limited to the school zone people live in. 

“You may not go to 4K at your neighborhood school,” Sepersky said. “Due to space and a variety of factors, some students go to one of our schools for 4K and then return to their neighborhood school for 5K-5th grades. We encourage families to reach out to us with questions at any time because we know this is the first school experience for many families and we are here to welcome not just the student, but also the entire family, into an educational journey that lasts about 15 years and impacts a lifetime.”


Families of future 4K students are encouraged to arrange a tour to see the program in action. Contact the District Office to arrange a visit to one of our schools at 414-766-5000.


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