UPK – Instilling the Joy of Learning to JPS Youngest Students

“Each of you will receive an egg. Inside is a different creature,” said Fletcher Elementary School Universal Pre-kindergarten (UPK) teacher Jennifer Schrader. “I’m going to ask each of you to count how many legs your creature has. Then, we will come to our graph and figure out what column our creature belongs in – zero for no legs up to 10 legs.”

The students opened their “eggs” to ohhs and ahhs over their creatures – ranging from owls to snakes to spiders. Each student counted the creature’s legs and placed the creature in the correct number column depending on how many legs it had. After a few creatures are on the graph, Miss Schrader began asking questions.

“How many creatures on our graph right now have four legs?

“Two,” says a student.

“How many six-legged creatures do we have? Make sure you look down the correct column on our graph.”


“Is there any other column that is represented with three creatures?”

“The zero column – there are only three snakes.”

Miss Schrader and her UPK students were working on one part of a GEMS Unit called “Eggs, Eggs Everywhere.” The GEMS (Great Explorations in Math and Science) kit introduces young students to the wonder of—and the story inside—eggs from a variety of creatures, allowing them to begin developing key concepts in biology and the life sciences. In a gentle and engaging exploration of animals that hatch, children study real and plastic egg-layers, including turtles, fish, snakes, and birds. The activities are noteworthy for their interdisciplinary richness, interweaving literature, mathematics, and the physical sciences. Through role-playing, sorting, organizing, graphing, and exploring shape and movement, students develop an understanding not only of the process of egg-laying and hatching, but of the animals themselves, their roles in the life cycle, and fundamental mathematical concepts. Miss Schrader also read the story “Chickens Aren’t the Only Ones,” by Ruth Heller to end the lesson.

“The students love the GEMS unit and just today my students learned a new word, oviparous, which means hatched from an egg. They were very cute trying to use, pronounce and define the new word,” said Miss Schrader. “Part of our goal in UPK is to prepare our student for kindergarten and the GEMS unit is just one way we help students learn multiple new subjects.”


The GEMS unit is used in all classrooms in the Jamestown School’s UPK Program, which is available for children who are four-years-old, on or before December 1st. Jamestown Schools is proud that the free, grant-funded program provides the youngest students with a strong first school experience. The Jamestown UPK program is a mix of school- and center-based programs. While each of JPS’ six elementary schools has a UPK program in their building, parents have several options for UPK, including: full day, half day, integrated setting with special needs students, and center-based programs. For the center-based programs, the district contracts with community agencies, which are able to provide wrap-around day care services. The UPK classrooms provide a rich learning environment with many active learning opportunities for children. The teachers provide instruction that is aligned to the NYS Common Core Learning Preschool Standards, focusing on the whole child to prepare children for school and lifelong learning. Students in the JPS UPK Program have combined activity times with the emphasis on learning. Literacy, math, science and writing programs are incorporated into fun activities to keep students learning but also develop a love of learning.

“UPK is important because it gives our students a great start to their school career,” said Lincoln Elementary School UPK teacher Betsy Homan. “They are given many experiences and learn the early literacy and math skills they need to succeed in kindergarten. I get so excited when I see students’ eyes light up–it might be when they learn something new about the natural world, or when they hear a surprising ending of a story read aloud. It may even be when they learn what is means to be a friend. There is so much that is new for them at this age, and it is absolutely a delight to facilitate that kind of learning.”

Benefits of UPK

Many different types of research show the benefits of a UPK education. The national Early Childhood Longitudinal Study—Kindergarten Cohort shows that students who attended a pre-kindergarten program scored higher on reading and math tests than children only receiving parental care. High-quality pre-kindergarten programs also provide substantial cost savings to federal, state, and local governments by reducing use of special education services and lower grade retention among pre-kindergarten participants. There is also strong evidence showing that young children who participate in high-quality pre-kindergarten programs enter school more ready to learn than their peers. They become familiar with their home school and learn the necessary academic skills to prepare them for kindergarten.

“I definitely see a big difference between students that attend a UPK program and those that do not when they enter kindergarten,” said Bush Elementary School kindergarten teacher Julie Yochim. “Our UPK students work in the same ELA, math, and writing programs that we use in kindergarten so it is a natural progression for UPK students to be able to jump right into something they have seen or heard from the previous year. It is exciting to hear them say that they already read a book like we are reading or have done a math problem we are trying. Also, the UPK students are prepared for the daily routines of school and the challenge of attending school for a full day. They understand getting ready in the morning with unpacking backpacks, making a lunch choice, writing their name, and then doing these same routines in the afternoon. Having taught for 19 years, I see how kindergarten is now what 1st grade used to be. UPK is the new kindergarten and it is so beneficial for students to have that building block of an extra year to be ready for all the skills that will be covered in kindergarten.”

Goals of JPS UPK Program

Goals of the JPS UPK Program include: preparing students for the academics of kindergarten by learning shapes, colors, numbers, letter and sounds, pictures and words, speaking in complete sentences, reading out loud as a group, basic science and math, writing their own names, but also just as important, socialization skills like listening, sitting still, learning their own address and phone number,

“We prepare our youngest students for the rigors of kindergarten, which students must be more academically prepared for than in the past,” said Ring School UPK teacher Terry Ortiz. “We are their first teachers. UPK gives students an insight in what fun school can be. We try to give them a love of school from their first experience. I love teaching this age group and find it most intriguing there willingness and ability to take on any assignment and learn.”

JPS UPK students are provided transportation by the district. Full-day UPK students receive breakfast and lunch and half-day UPK students receive snacks. Every JPS UPK teacher is fully New York State certified to help meet the New York State educational requirements. For more information about our Universal Pre-School Programs, please feel free to contact either the JPS Director of Elementary School Education, Tina Sandstrom, at (716) 483-4395 or email at tsandstrom@jamestownwnyric.org or contact Ms. Martha Jordan, JPS UPK liaison, at (716) 483-0924 if you are interested in registering your child for UPK or have any questions.



posted on 05/08/2012 - filed under: Academics, Spotlight