Summer school program preps young minds for kindergarten
July 24, 2012
By Lillian O'Rorke
Several miniature hands shot up into the air as Allison Rupert read aloud, “On the first day of school I wondered, ‘What will I do today?’”
While most of the classrooms at Issaquah Valley Elementary School are quiet, Rupert and fellow teacher Jane Brammer are instructing a four-week pilot kindergarten readiness program through Aug. 3.
“A lot of them have never been to school. But the first day they were on board,” Rupert said. “Seeing the progress in just two weeks, they are going to be so ready in September. They will have confidence and it won’t be a scary place.”
Paid for by an $18,000 Academic Enrichment Grant from the Issaquah Schools Foundation, the Pre-K Summer School is a free program for children entering kindergarten who have not been to preschool, have English as a second language or have attended preschool but need extra attention.
With 32 children participating in the pilot, the grant also covers two buses to transport them daily to and from their 9 a.m. to noon class.
“Many families were just impressed that they didn’t have to pay for it,” said Liliya Stefoglo, who began calling the parents of eligible incoming kindergartners in the spring.
Children were selected for the program based on the results of an assessment that was given to those that registered for kindergarten at Issaquah Valley and Clark elementary schools.
“I get emails every day,” Stefoglo said. “Parents are so thankful … and they are so happy that their students come home beaming ear-to-ear.”
A few years ago, Jodi Bongard, executive director of elementary schools, approached the foundation with the idea for the program. What followed were two years of presentations, discussions and planning.
“You want to make sure that with your pilot, you can really be as successful as you can be so that you’re using your donors’ money wisely,” Bongard said. “Research shows over and over that the return on the investment in early learning is just amazing.”
Bongard has a lot of research on the topic stacked in her office. A 201-page report by research and analysis nonprofit RAND found that the return for every $1 spent on early-learning programs ranges from $1.26 to $17.
“We are really trying to provide support for our youngest learners to hone in on the early learning opportunity,” she said. “And get them off to a healthy start.”
The program aims to do that by gearing students to think of themselves as readers and writers. Equally important is the goal to socially and emotionally prepare the children for school.
“They are definitely bathed in the language of school here — how to do school, how to make friends … how to feel good at school,” Stefoglo said. “We’ve had kids who are just sad when they see their mom go, but then in the first five minutes of school they are engaged … kids are just glued to those materials and resources.”
The curriculum includes books for small group instruction, giant books for whole group instruction, picture cards, posters, songs and materials to take home.
“It’s the little things you don’t think about, like how to hold scissors,” Rupert said.
The day after she sent books home, children came back to school the next day excited, she said, and telling her about how they read them to their mom, their brother, their fish.
“It’s just such a positive experience for the kids,” she said. “It gives them a jumpstart.”
Students aren’t the only ones with homework. Parents are also kept in the loop with explanations of what their children are doing in class and suggestions for how to continue that education at home. Teachers have set aside a special day for families to visit the classroom and see for themselves how lessons are going. This will help welcome newcomers from a different country or different school district, and help familiarize them with the district’s learning standards, Brammer said.
“We want parents to be our partners, to work on a team. We want them to ask questions,” she said. At the end of the four weeks children will be sent home with a bag of 10-15 books to read on their own or with family.
“Early education is so important,” Brammer said. “Anything we can do to help support early-childhood education will help close that opportunity gap.”
Issaquah Schools Foundation Executive Director Robin Callahan agrees. She hopes the pilot will turn into an annual summer program, open to Issaquah’s youngest students who need help prepping for school. This year’s 32 children were tested during the first few days of class and are set to receive more formal testing at the end of the program. That information, Stefoglo said, will hopefully help make a case for the continuation of Pre-K Summer School.
“I am pretty sure we will see great results,” she said. “It’s fun. Every day I watch these kids and my heart is singing because I know we are building a foundation for success.”
If the program continues next summer, children will be prescreened for it after registering for kindergarten in the spring.
Lillian Tucker: 392-6434, ext. 242, or email@example.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.