As with any graduation, Sevon Mandoki knows his will bring change.
"We're going to that school next year," 5-year-old Sevon said, pointing to the main school building from the modular unit where he attends his prekindergarten class. "We'll learn how to write."
But they already know some things.
"I know one plus one," boasted classmate Ramon Rojas Davalos, 5. "It's two."
That's the point of the Even Start and Early Childhood Learning program offered to 4- and 5-year-olds at Empire Elementary School.
"It really prepares them for school," said Nancy Varner who coordinates the program with Peggy Sweetland. "There's a huge change in them from the beginning of the year. The biggest change is their language ability."
During a graduation ceremony Thursday, 39 students were commended for completion of the course.
And the school, which is mostly made up of students who speak English as a second language and has struggled meeting federal requirements, is noticing a change.
This year's first-graders are the first group to go through the school since the prekindergarten program began three years ago.
"Our first-grade teachers made the comment that this class has been able to make more progress than any other - and these are veteran teachers," said Principal Pat Carpenter. "This definitely is a leg up for them."
As part of the Even Start program, students attend class five days a week. Their parents are also required to enroll in some form of adult education. Through the program, one parent passed the GED and another two are waiting for their results. Advocates also visit the home once a month to help families develop study habits.
Maclovia Muños is taking English classes through the program and her daughter Hilda, 5, graduated this year. Her other daughter Jennifer, 3, will enroll in two years and her son, Jose, 10, has benefited from the home visits.
"At first, he didn't speak English," she said. "Now he speaks too much. He's chatty."
In addition to preparing students for the academic load school will bring, the class is also designed to teach them social skills needed to be successful in school.
"I learned to clean up," said Jonathan Torres, 5, while stacking toy dinosaurs in a plastic tub.
Another program, "Little Steps" or "Pasitos" is also available to 3-year-olds to attend one day a week for two hours with a parent. It is designed to enhance social skills, such as sharing.
Contact Teri Vance at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 881-1272.