“I was really scared to come this morning too, but then I got here and now I’m so happy!” said an adorable Southwick student, comforting another student who was scared on his first day of school. What a day it was to start United Way of Allen County’s Kindergarten Countdown program. The program started the day after Independence Day this year with thunderstorms brewing all morning. First day jitters are bad enough without adding thunderstorms into the mix. But our teachers and our students are resilient and will not let a little rain get them down for too long.
This is the ninth year United Way of Allen County’s Kindergarten Countdown program has run in Fort Wayne Community Schools and East Allen County Schools. Kindergarten Countdown is a four-week summer program designed to get incoming kindergarteners ready for their first school year. The program is offered to incoming students with little to no prior Pre-K experience, English language learners, and/or are identified by school staff as children who are at risk for falling behind their kindergarten classmates. The program runs half-days Monday through Friday as a way of getting children settled into school life. Children can begin working on skills such as counting, pre-reading, listening, and socioemotional skills before the school year begins. Teresa Knoblauch, Assistant Superintendent of East Allen County Schools (EACS) says of the program, “I just love the fact that kids get the opportunity to join the school setting before the entire school is coming into the building at the beginning of August. 3..o be in a bigger setting in a more structured way. And so being able to participate in Kindergarten Countdown allows them the opportunity to become familiar with the layout of the school and become familiar with the people that they are going to see every day when they start coming to school in August. And it helps to ease the parents, too.” Not only do students get the benefits of getting a jump start on kindergarten but students also receive bookbags with school supplies made possible by our generous donors.
Fun memories abound every year of the program. When Aubree Smith, Kindergarten Countdown teacher at New Haven Primary School was asked about her favorite memory from this program year, she reflected on what happened when students’ parents came to visit the school for a day. “It was cool to see the kids show off what they learned. They were so excited to see their parents but then went and sat down and were ready to listen and do whatever they needed to do. I had the opportunity to brag on them with the parents and the principal in the room,” Aubree reflected. She is amazed at the growth she sees in the children from the first day of the program to the last. The children make friends with each other fast over the four weeks and start even correcting and encouraging in each other in the proper procedures of the classroom.
Not only do children get to have fun and learn in the classroom, but they also get to go on a field trip to Eagle Marsh. They get to go on a hike through the woods and through the open prairie. The kids were tasked with looking for shapes, for example, finding flowers that were in the shape of a star and leaves that were in the shape of an oval.
Kindergarten Countdown impacts students in so many ways. It helps students who otherwise would not have been exposed to the school system get some exposure before they start school in August. It helps them to become more comfortable with school and what will be expected of them so when the learning comes along, they can properly soak in all the information without being concerned about what they are supposed to do. When school starts in the fall, Chanel Burton, Kindergarten Countdown teacher at Heritage Elementary School says that “I can tell right away who was in the program just by how they get in line and if they can write their name already. Not all of them who go through the program end up being able to write their name, but they have a good head start.” Sarah Rivera elaborates and explains: “I see Kindergarten Countdown building so much confidence in my students and helping me to build close relationships with them so that when they come in the school year, they are ready to learn. They know how to express concerns to me, and they know why they are there. And other students get that eventually but having a month head start, it just really helps them to be successful earlier in the school year.”
Successfully transitioning children from the home to the school is just one of the building blocks of a successful life for them. We here at United Way of Allen County understand the importance of early childhood education, and the Kindergarten Countdown initiative is an important initiative that is in alignment with our strategic priority of Educational Opportunities. If you are inspired by this story and would like to donate to the ensure the continuity of such an essential program, please click here. We at United Way of Allen County thank you for your generosity in ensuring these children have a successful start to their school careers.