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Kindergarten screening time

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Four year-olds Marissa Sylvester and Evan Willard are already feeling at home in Deb LaForce's Winooski Kindergarten classroom, and the longtime J.F.K Elementary School teacher is getting excited to have them.

"I love the curiousness. I love the way that they are so honest," LaForce said.

But before these kids and thousands of others make it to Vermont classrooms full-time, they're turning out at Kindergarten screenings across the state to assess their skills. Despite some parent misconceptions, the screenings are not pass-fail. Instead, they're used to help schools evaluate youngsters to ensure the kids have the best teachers and resources to meet the new students' needs. "We look for conversations, social, emotional -- how they separate from their parents -- if they're anxious when they are with us," LaForce said.

The state does not mandate the screenings and its only requirement for who can go to kindergarten has to do with age. In Vermont, schools have a window from August 31st to January 1st by which time a kid must turn five to start school in a given year. September 1st is a common cut-off. LaForce said her preference is to see kids as soon as possible -- and on occasion has four-year-olds filling this space.  "When you weigh whether a child should come to kindergarten or whether they should stay at a preschool that's probably not a full day, this place is the place they really need to be," she said.

She and parents stress that while these screenings are helpful, there's no need for families to get stressed about the evaluations.

"Stay calm," advised Jessica Granger, an incoming parent.

"Ask a lot of questions," said parent Norma-Jean Willard.

"Just relax," LaForce said.

After all, parents may need to save their stress and tears for the fall. "I am going to be a big, weepy mess the first day of school because she is my last baby. It gets easier," Granger said.

If these signs are any indication, the kids will be alright.

LaForce says if your kid is the type to get pretty shy around new people -- not to worry. Teachers regularly bring parents into the mix at screenings to put kids at ease -- and know that bright, chatty kids may not show off all their talents on the spot.

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