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Pre-Kindergarten Program Helping Close Achievement Gap

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(credit: CBS) Esme Murphy
Esme Murphy, a reporter and Sunday morning anchor for WCCO-TV, h...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – In most school districts, children start school at age 5 when they go to kindergarten.

But in Minneapolis, an increasing number of kids are going at age 4 as part of a program called High Five. It targets Native American kids, and it’s also a good example of what’s working in local schools.

Anishinabe Academy has only been in session three weeks, but its 4-year-old students are already reading in both English and Ojibwe.

To qualify for High Five, the kids’ families have to meet income requirements for reduced lunch, or the kids have to be identified for being at risk for not doing well in kindergarten.

“[High Five] is getting them ready for kindergarten and that school experience,” said Karen LaMere, a High Five teacher.

During the last five years, Minneapolis has tripled the number of kids in the program to nearly 1,000. As a result, kindergarteners are seeing better test scores.

Seventy-five percent of kids graduating from High Five are kindergarten ready, officials say.

LaMere said the program gives kids the skills to write their names; it also teaches them letters, shapes and colors.

The program’s focus on the the Ojibwe and Dakota languages has also been a huge boost to the community.

Danielle Grant, the director Indian education at Minneapolis Public Schools, said much of the Ojibwe culture is kept alive through programs like High Five.

“A lot of our cultural ideas are only able to be expressed in our Ojibwe language,” Grant said. “So it is really important to keep our language alive because it really keeps our cultural identity alive.”

The High Five program is also getting credit for closing the achievement gap between lower and middle income kids. And while the language program at Anishinabe is the first of its kind, it has already been picked up in other schools across Minnesota and the country.

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