By Madelynn Coldiron
In a kindergarten classroom at Erlanger-Elsmere Independent’s Lindeman Elementary in July, some beginning learners were trying to identify the numbers a teacher was holding up, flash-card style. Other youngsters worked on counting the blocks in the towers they built.
It’s a way of making sure they are ready for the basics of kindergarten in a summer program called Me and My School, an initiative of northern Kentucky’s Success by Six and United Way. It operated in six school districts this summer, including two of Erlanger’s four elementaries.
PHOTO: Lindeman Elementary kindergarten teacher Jennifer Martin works with a group of incoming kindergarten students who were using blocks to count.
“Our students are coming to us with many challenges,” Erlanger Assistant Superintendent David Palmore said. The district has high transient, English language learner and free- and reduced-lunch populations.
“Many of our kids come in without any background knowledge of schooling and the parents are nervous, too, about sending their kids to a school they don’t know anything about,” noted Angela Gabbard, principal of Lindeman Elementary.
Superintendent Kathy Burkhardt said this is the latest program the district is using to prepare kids for kindergarten – other efforts were launched earlier when kindergarten screening data showed a large percentage of Erlanger students were entering school underprepared.
“What we found, too, when we looked at our data was before their first school experience, only half of our kids are in any kind of child care program anywhere,” she said. “So we’ve been working with Success by Six, United Way, on other initiatives that they do and we were able to receive some funding from them to do that.”
While the bulk of support for Me and My School came from those two groups, the district did kick in some funds, Burkhardt said. Board Chairman David Bird said the program will “take some of the blocks and barricades to learning away.”
“Not everybody is as prepared for kindergarten as we would like, for whatever reason,” he said. About a quarter to a third of the 60 incoming kindergartners in Lindeman and Howell elementaries attended Me and My School, Tuesday through Thursday mornings for a month or so, picking up literacy and numeracy skills and more, with lots of hands-on activities and items that they could take home and use. The program also brought “field trips” to the students tied to the units of study, with speakers coming in from the zoo, police and fire departments, a local farm and the public library.
One of the more unique aspects of Me and My School is the emphasis on parent involvement. Kindergarten teachers met with parents whose children were participating on the first day, filling them in on the goals of the program and what their children would be learning, said Lindeman kindergarten teacher Lorri Knauss.
Meetings continued on a weekly basis, giving the teachers an opportunity to suggest activities parents could do at home with their children to stimulate them academically and socially, Howell Principal Michael Goodenough said.
Erlanger used its summer feeding program to give the kids breakfast and lunch and invited parents to join them. And the two schools’ kindergarten teachers visited the homes of these students to review the kindergarten schedule and activities, and also obtaining any needed paperwork there “and not in the office where it’s kind of intimidating,” Goodenough said.
Chalena White said Me and My School “is a good idea.” She wasn’t sure what to expect from kindergarten, since her son, Thomas Hall, didn’t go to preschool. White said she would be working at home with Thomas this summer to help him get ready for kindergarten and thinks being in the program “will help him not be as nervous on the first day.”
There are obvious and not-so-obvious benefits to Me and My School and similar programs, starting with academic progress.
“If you think about college and career readiness, it starts long before kids are even in school, because if you can get them to where they need to be when they enter school and all along the developmental milestones, then they’re more likely to be ready,” Burkhardt said.
Palmore pointed to the correlation between student assessment scores and their degree of preparation on entering school.
Since the program is based in the school and classrooms the new kindergartners will attend, they will be familiar with their new environment. “They’re going to know their teachers before school ever starts, they’re going to know the routine of the day and be truly ahead of others because of the things that are being done this summer,” Palmore said.
The two schools purposely chose their kindergarten teachers for the program, Goodenough said.
“It allows those teachers to have a core group of kids when the kindergarten program starts in the fall – they’ll have their procedures and expectations and kids will know the lay of the land.”
Even skills like going through the cafeteria line and table manners may be new to some students, he added.
“A big part of it is acclimating them to group kinds of things and the school environment,”
Knauss said. With this head start, she added, “these kids may become the leaders in their classroom.”
Palmore said through pre- and post-testing of students in Me and My School, the district will be able to measure their progress, and also will compare kindergarten screening results for children in the program with those who weren’t.