Learning how to do school: camp preps first-time students

Posted 8/2/19

BONLEE — “Rise, and shine,” the kindergarteners were told, “and welcome to school today, and we’re so glad that you’re here!”

Next, they went over the days of the week, to the tune …

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Learning how to do school: camp preps first-time students

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BONLEE — “Rise, and shine,” the kindergarteners were told, “and welcome to school today, and we’re so glad that you’re here!”

Next, they went over the days of the week, to the tune of the theme song from the TV show “The Addams Family.”

Then, they danced the Macaraena while listing out the months of the year.

Nine kindergarteners, along with two teachers, gathered in a Bonlee School classroom Monday morning to do what most elementary school students, especially the younger ones, do on the first day of school: they introduced themselves, learned some classroom rules and read a book together.

Only it wasn’t the first day of school.

It was, rather, the first day of Chatham County Schools’ “Get on Track” Kindergarten Readiness Camp, a program designed to help incoming kindergarteners with the adjustment process to going to school. Sherry Elmore, the program’s director, said it’s designed to help kids learn “how to do school.”

“The state continues to put more and more expectations on children younger and younger,” Elmore said. “For kids who have not attended a pre-school program — maybe they’ve stayed with grandmother or been in a home daycare — and have not had any kind of introduction to literacy or early numeracy, it can slow things down. You have some kids that come and are ready to hit the ground running. We do an umbrella of how-to-do school.”

On the first day of school last year, 622 students walked into kindergarten classrooms around Chatham County. That’s 622 children who may or may not have been in a school-like environment before, who may or may not have interacted with others their age on a regular basis. When they go to school, some are thrown in the deep end.

Kandyce Wood teaches first grade at Pittsboro Elementary School during the school year, but she’s out at Bonlee this summer teaching a kindergarten camp class for the second time. She said the goal is to help make sure “it’s not a shock” when these students walk into their classrooms on August 26.

And that’s what she plans to focus on over the next three weeks. The program runs weekdays from July 29 to August 15, beginning at 7:55 a.m. and ending at 12:30 p.m. Students are attending camp at either Pittsboro Elementary, Virginia Cross Elementary, North Chatham Elementary on Bonlee, based on where they live. Some of the students in Wood’s class will go to Bonlee, while others will attend J.S. Waters School or Bennett School.

On the first day, before the singing, the students have already gone to the bathroom, practiced walking down the hallways and are sitting in a circle. Some are shy and nervous, speaking softly or acting hesitantly about sharing their thoughts. Others are anxious to speak, causing Wood and assistant Angela Cotton to remind them they need to raise their hand before talking.

Elmore said there’s a lot of focus on repeating these instructions and routines, something Wood said is crucial.

“Routine is the No. 1 thing because the routine is what they’re going to have to work with from 7:30 to 3 o’clock,” she said. “We want them to feel safe when they go into the classroom and we want them to feel confident in themselves. We want them to be socially and emotionally ready for school.”

School personnel also give special attention to parents, some of whom are sending their kids to school for the first time.

“Especially the ones that it’s their first experience with public school, they have lots of questions,” Elmore said. “It’s a very nervous time in their life with their child. We spend a lot of time talking to them up front, laying out all we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it.”

After reading a book with Ms. Wood about listening — “Howard B. Wigglebottom Learns to Listen,” which tells the story of a young rabbit who has several mishaps at school after not listening to his teacher or his friends — the student split up into groups for different activities.

While Elmore said she’s cognizant of the limited time the program allows for real academic growth, experience has shown some things stick.

“Even though it’s only 12 days, it’s amazing that they do show improvement,” she said. “But the biggest improvement we see is at the beginning, at the pre-assessment last year, we had the assessors saying that the assessment is too long. They can’t sit still long enough to do the assessment. But 12 days later, they could. They wanted to engage because they understood what they were doing.”

And that lasts into the school year, at least for some — Wood said her kindergarten colleagues at Pittsboro Elementary can see a marked difference in who went to kindergarten camp and who didn’t.

“It is very enlightening,” said Wood, “and it’s just an awesome program to help our kids coming into kindergarten with their social, emotional and a little bit of academic skills.”

Reporter Zachary Horner can be reached at zhorner@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @ZachHornerCNR.

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