A failed attempt last year to more than double the number of youngsters in the junior kindergarten program has school administrators taking a different tack. Rather than flood Forest Park parents with messages on the benefits of starting their children’s schooling a year early, District 91 will try and build a stellar program that families rave about.

Superintendent Lou Cavallo said he would still like to see the enrollment numbers climb, and during the last week of April a series of open-house events was targeted at giving parents more information. About 35 children already have their appointments to register for junior kindergarten in the fall.

This time last year, however, school officials were pushing to enroll up to 120 kids.

The district plans to operate two half-day sessions of junior kindergarten at Garfield Elementary. Enrollment will be capped at 20 students per session and, if the demand calls for it, administrators are prepared to offer additional junior kindergarten classes at Field-Stevenson.

The 2009-10 school year also marks the use of new attendance boundaries in the district. This restructuring will group students by grade level, and Cavallo said he’s hopeful that by concentrating parents of younger children together, word about the junior kindergarten program will spread more quickly.

“I would love to improve the enrollment for the junior kindergarten,” Cavallo said. “I think people aren’t enrolling in the junior kindergarten because they don’t really know what it is.”

Maureen Vilanova and her daughter attended an April 28 informational session at Garfield Elementary on the program. Vilanova has already put three children through junior kindergarten in Forest Park.

“I think it gets them ready for kindergarten,” she said. “It gets them ready for the classroom experience.”

Some of the skills teachers hope to emphasize during the year include recognizing numbers and letters, learning the days of the week and months of the year, and following simple instructions.

Vilanova’s daughter is already somewhat familiar with being in an educational setting; she attends preschool twice a week at the Howard Mohr Community Center. During their visit to Garfield, the children went to a junior kindergarten classroom for about 25 minutes and worked with a teacher. They read a book, explored the room, talked about their favorite colors and played a numbers game in which kids tried to guess how many buttons were in a jar.

Jenny Barbahen, another parent planning to enroll her child in next year’s class, said her son also attends preschool in Forest Park.

“He loves it,” Barbahen said. “He can’t wait to go to a big kid school.”

While kids were getting their feet wet, parents learned the district’s registration requirements, busing schedules and the meal program. In September, just before the start of the school year, parents at every grade level will be invited for a more detailed discussion of the curriculum.