Keeping Up With the Dunruds

Posted by Katie Kerwin McCrimmon on


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By Katie Kerwin McCrimmon

Braeden Dunrud was riding in the family car when he saw a sign for the Spicy Pickle restaurant and asked his mom if it said “Spacey Pickle.” Pretty darn close for a 3-year-old.

Braeden Dunrud, 5, wearing his racing-car backpack, lines up for his advanced kindergarten class at Denver's Center for Early Education.

A short time later, Braeden revealed his reading abilities again. As he carried a can of root beer to the recycling bin, he called out, “Does it say Mug’s?” His parents looked at each other, stunned. Yes, as a matter of fact, it did say Mug’s, a brand name the parents never used. Clearly, Braeden was teaching himself to read.

Now 5, Braeden is among 38 children in advanced kindergarten at the Center for Early Education in Denver, a stand-alone site that houses preschool programs for four southeast Denver feeder schools, along with both traditional and advanced kindergarten classrooms. The center opened in 2009 and expanded to provide preschool for 3-year-olds, along with kindergarten, this year.
Demand for advanced kindergarten is so high this year that Denver Public Schools officials opened two advanced classrooms at the center.

That decision was a huge relief for Emma Dunrud. Like many parents across DPS, she spent last year sweating the complex application and acceptance process for the district’s choice and magnet programs, praying she’d find a spot for Braeden.
To make matters more complex, Dunrud has four young boys, three of whom are now in DPS. The oldest is a second-grader at Steele Elementary in Denver but, because that is not the Dunruds’ home school, there was no guarantee Steele would have room for his younger brothers. Siblings don’t get preference over neighborhood children.

Sure enough, Steele was full for kindergarten this year. Braeden had attended the Early Education Center for preschool and his 3-year-old brother now attends the center in the afternoons. Braeden’s preschool teacher last year knew he’d be a good candidate for advanced kindergarten and suggested the family apply.

Related story
Read EdNews’ story, “Advanced kindergarten grows in Denver”

They completed an application, highlighting his academic skills, and agreed to have him tested.  At that point, the only nearby advanced kindergarten was at Bradley Elementary, another southeast Denver school that was experiencing enrollment spikes and would soon no longer have room for the advanced class.

When DPS officials decided last spring to shift the Bradley program to the Center for Early Education and add a second advanced classroom, the Dunruds finally had a great option that would work for the whole family – at least for this year.

“We were thrilled that Braeden qualified. I think it’s such a great opportunity,’’ Dunrud said. “He doesn’t have to sit through the ABCs and 123s again. Not that he’s Einstein or anything but if he could be challenged, that’s great.”

Dunrud has heard many stories about boys who get bored at school, then get into trouble. She’s pleased he’ll be engaged as the teacher moves at a fast clip through the kindergarten curriculum and pushes the children to achieve beyond their grade level. And the center is a warm and welcoming place for children to start school in an atmosphere where they are the big kids.

“I love this center,’’ Dunrud said. “It’s so focused on ECE and kindergarten.”

On a recent morning, Braeden eagerly sped into school wearing his race-car backback.

His mom could use a race car of her own to navigate all her stops each day. In the mornings, she gets the oldest boy to Steele, then brings Braeden to kindergarten. Her husband, Tom, works at home, so the two younger boys can sleep while she does the morning run.

Braeden Dunrud, left, and his mom, Emma Dunrud, outside Denver's Center for Early Education, where Braeden and his younger brother attend school.

At mid-day, Dunrud returns to the Center for Early Education to bring their 3-year-old to his half-day program. By the end of the day, Dunrud is towing the 7-month-old baby around to pick up his three big brothers at two schools.
“I want them to have as good an education as they can get,” she said. “If it’s out there, I’m going to try to get it, even if it means I’ve got to run all over Colorado to do it.’’

What is unclear is where the advanced kindergarten program will lead.

“I’m already stressing about next year,’’ Dunrud said.

Like many Denver families, the Dunruds have suffered financially over the past few years. They used to live in West Washington Park, close to Steele. But they were forced to sell their home when remodeling costs spiked while Tom Dunrud’s income as a mortgage broker plummeted.

Private school is not an option and the Dunruds can’t afford to move right now. The public school closest to their home was rated average by the state so they’re looking at other possibilities.

“Unless you live in a neighborhood with a good school, you have to go through this. I don’t know what we’ll do next year,” she said. “Someday we’ll have to move to Littleton or Golden.”

One potential shortcoming of advanced kindergarten in that it does not guarantee children spots in advanced classrooms for first grade and beyond. Children who qualify for advanced kindergarten show that they have mastered the skills taught in kindergarten.

But they do not automatically qualify for DPS’ Gifted and Talented Program. Each year, only about two-thirds of children who have participated in advanced kindergarten qualify for gifted programs.

So parents of advanced kindergarten children must navigate two tracks at the same time to assure that they have a place for their children for the following year. Most go through the application process for the gifted programs while many try to choice in to popular schools and hope their children will be challenged wherever they end up.

This fall, Emma Dunrud will have to start strategizing about options for next year. She’ll need to complete a complex application to have Braeden tested for the GT programs while simultaneously trying to “choice” into Steele or another school.

She’ll also check out Bradley’s new International Baccalaureate program, which offers foreign languages and an intense academic program that’s outside the GT offerings. She could end up with three of her children at three different schools.

“Why do we have to go through this struggle all the time?” Dunrud said. “It’s a daunting task. But you want the best education you can find.”

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