Megan Edwards understands that graduation is not the end, only the beginning of new things to come.
"I'm excited to go to kindergarten," said Megan, 5. "I like drawing and I want to learn to read because it's fun."
As Megan marched across the stage of Empire Elementary School on Wednesday evening to accept her diploma for the Even Start Family Literacy program, she could be confident of her next move.
Tests taken earlier in the year showed students who attended the prekindergarten program were better prepared to learn to read and had more advanced motor skills.
"We anticipated the scores would be better," said coordinator Peggy Sweetland. "It makes our job feel more worthwhile when we get that kind of feedback."
The Even Start program is dedicated to ending generational illiteracy by working with both parents and children. In addition to daily prekindergarten classes, advocates from the program go into the home weekly to work with children. Parents are also required to enroll in either an English or adult education class.
The tests administered to all entering kindergartners showed that regular Empire students scored in the 25th percentile for reading readiness. Even Start students were among the 39th percentile. The general population scored among the 34th percentile in motor skill receptiveness while Even Start students fell in the 53rd percentile.
Coordinator Nancy Berg said she sees improvement in all areas as her students progress throughout the year.
"We see their language skills improve. They learn their shapes and their colors," she explained. "They learn how to follow instructions and their social skills improve."
Jose Manuel Moreno, 4, learned to identify his colors this year, but that wasn't the best part of school.
"I like to play trucks," he said. "I like trucks."
Maria Guzman has watched her 5-year-old son Carlos Guardado progress over the past year.
"Before he didn't speak well, either in English or in Spanish," she said in Spanish. "Now he speaks them both well. That will give him better opportunities when he grows up."
The students were also pleased with their accomplishments and excited about their moment in the spotlight shining down on them in the school's gymnasium.
"It's fun," said Tony Merlin, 5. "You get to get a picture of you and wear those blue things -- they're for graduation."