School preparation programs give kindergarten students extra help


File photo: School buses

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Posted August 4, 2022 | By Caroline Brauchler
Caroline@ocalagazette.com

As the beginning of the school year approaches, it can be an intimidating time for young students who are leaving home and going to school for the very first time.

Marion County Public Schools’ Kindergarten Kickstart and Stagger Start programs aim to alleviate those fears by not only getting kindergarten students into the classroom early but by also phasing students’ entry into school—and positive results are already showing.

“We’ve heard some really positive feedback from teachers,” said Ann Hembrook, area superintendent of elementary education. “We actually had a young kindergarten student who even presented the Pledge of Allegiance at our most recent school board meeting.”

The returning Kindergarten Stagger Start program will take place on Aug. 10-12 during the first three days of school, when each kindergarten classroom will be split up into thirds. One third of the class will come in each day, which allows for the classrooms to have a lower student-to-teacher ratio during the first few days of the school year. The program is voluntary and available at all elementary schools across the district, Hembrook said.

“The teacher gets to know the students on a more personal level, so that she or he can plan and anticipate what their needs might be for the next week and for the remainder of the school year,” Hembrook said. “When it comes time to leave their mom and dad all day long, [students] are more comfortable because they know who their teacher is, and they’ve already spent a day with that person.”

Activities planned for the students on these first few days of school include practicing lining up and learning where they will sit in the classroom, where to put their backpacks and supplies, walking to the cafeteria and becoming more familiar with the school buildings, she said.

Stagger Start is not the only effort taken to give local elementary students the extra boost they need. The new Kindergarten Kickstart program took place on July 11-14 and for the first time brought students into classrooms before the school year even began.

“Coming into school is hard as a 5-year-old in a large building with lots of different hallways that might look similar with a lot of students,” Hembrook said. “By bringing them in early they get a little bit more comfortable with their surroundings. They start to explore the classroom.”

Participation in the program exceeded expectations when 264 kindergarten students came to meet their teachers and fellow classmates, according to MCPS. Before the beginning of the school year, the district also encouraged parents to prepare their children for kindergarten by reading together and reviewing numbers, letters, shapes and colors.

“The opportunity provided bonding time between teachers and students and afforded social time for students to learn and play together,” according to MCPS. “It made a new school environment a little less intimidating before school officially starts.”