There’s a clear picture of what the first day of school looks like for many youngest learners.
It involves crying.
The tears mostly come from pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students when they arrive at their elementary schools for the first time. Parents, who may be sending off their firstborn to school for the first time, also often have a hard time letting go.
The whole scenario is overwhelming.
A pilot program at Sea Breeze Elementary School is trying to ease that transition, prepare students for what the school environment is like and help parents learn how to help encourage learning in their own homes. The new program is part of the district’s participation in the nationwide Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.
“Early learning is really where it all begins,” said Sheila Halpin, a specialist in the Manatee County School District who is helping lead the campaign efforts for the district.
The Campaign for Grade-Level reading aims to have students reading on grade level by the end of the third grade, as experts say that threshold is a good indicator of future success. The school district has partnered with United Way, the Manatee Community Foundation, University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee and the school district.
Last year, the district hired graduation enhancement technicians using Title I funds and placed them in 25 schools. The new position was aimed at helping increase attendance, another of the components of the campaign.
On Tuesday night at Sea Breeze, the latest gathering of the pilot program, students were able to meet the school’s head honcho — Principal Greg Sander — for the very first time. In addition to sending families home with information and resources, like books, Sander said he hopes the program makes the school a more inviting place for students when Aug. 10 rolls around.
“It’s always less scary coming to a place you’ve been three or four times,” he said.
Tanya Rosinski, whose 5-year-old son Julius Glendenning starts kindergarten in the fall, agreed, adding she didn’t know where the school was or what the phone number was before someone in the program reached out to her.
“It gives him a head start. He also gets to learn some classmates that he’s going to meet up with here soon. It’s a good way for him to get to know them and get involved with the school before he become part of it,” Rosinski said.
Run entirely by volunteers, the program hasn’t cost the district any money, Halpin said. Families were invited through phone calls if they had already registered a student for kindergarten or pre-K and the program has continued to grow each week as families hear about it through word of mouth.
The program has two main components. Alternating Tuesday, a mentor will call the families to talk to them about a different learning topic, the first phone call went out on June 7, just before school ended. On the non-phone call Tuesdays, the families head to the school for a provided dinner and activities.
Chelsea Weiland, whose 4-year-old son David will start at Sea Breeze in August, said she found the program to be educational. Each week, the families get “homework” and when they get back to the school, they’re able to share their work.
With help from early learning specialist Luanne Howe, David hung up a rainbow he created as part of his homework on one of the schools bulletin boards, using paint and brushes.
The trained volunteers, many from the United Way, use specific words and phrases with the students, to encourage learning and mimic what the students will hear from their teachers in the classroom.
An activity with blocks, put on by the Early Learning Coalition, helped teach colors, sizes, spatial relations and some basic building skills.
Depending on some results and how the rest of the program goes, Halpin said she hopes to expand the program to other schools next year. Volunteers have already come forward, she said.