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JumpStart Kindergarten gives students a boost

A summer program designed to give incoming kindergartners a boost before school starts offers as many advantages for parents and teachers as for students, according to the La Grange Elementary School teachers involved in the program.

Kindergarten students sit on the carpet as teacher Katy Sowers prepares to read a book to them. The 20 youngsters enrolled in JumpStart Kindergarten, an eight-day program in its third year at La Grange, leave with a better idea of what school’s about, parents get some homework assignments for July and August and teachers gather information about students’ needs.

“It’s not just a jumpstart for the children,” said Jo Pierce, who’s taught the program with Katie Sowers since its inception. “It’s a jumpstart for the teachers and the parents. This gives us some insight into where the children begin, their strengths and weaknesses, their personalities, and it also allows us to share information if they are in another teacher’s classroom. Plus, we have materials to send home to parents to give them some tips on things to work on to keep that momentum going.”

Typically, JumpStart students were not part of a pre-kindergarten program and trail other incoming kindergartners who completed pre-K at La Grange or came through Head Start or other pre-school programs.

“We’re trying to level the playing field so when they come in Teacher Jo Pierce helps kindergarten students count to five as they spin in place. they’re not too far behind compared to those children who come in already knowing how to count to 10 and knowing their colors or whatever.,” said La Grange principal Lorene Bell, who pioneered the JumpStart concept four years ago as principal at Northeast Elementary School in Kinston.

“We offer reading and writing activities, but there’s a lot of socialization, too,” Pierce said. “A lot of these children have never had the opportunity to go to pre-K or pre-school so it’s more or less an introduction.”

“We’re addressing the procedural issues, too,” Sowers added, “like walking down the hall correctly, correct pencil grip, bus and car-rider procedures, interacting in the classroom with us and with each other, going ahead and getting a jumpstart in creating the classroom family.”

Consequently, almost everything the students do, from eating breakfast and lunch in the cafeteria – one of the sites of LCPS’s Summer Feeding Program – to riding the school bus, is part of their instruction.

Each year, La Grange enrolls about 80 kindergarten students. When parents register them in the spring, the children are assessed against a baseline for incoming students – being able to recognize the letters in their name, knowing their numbers from 1 to 10 and being able to identify colors and basic shapes. Parents of those students identified as trailing are contacted about JumpStart Kindergarten, and Bell says she’s been gratified by parents’ response.

“The parents are really open to helping. A lot of them seem very appreciate of this program,” the principal said. “It’s a good transition for the parents because there’s not so much separation anxiety in the summer. Like the children, the parents have been able to ease into it.”

Photo captions:

Top -- After voting on which story they wanted to hear and counting the votes, JumpStart Kindergarten students settle on the carpet to hear teacher Katie Sowers read “Red Riding Hood.”

Bottom -- La Grange Elementary kindergarten teacher Jo Pierce combines a numbers lesson with some exercise as she leads her JumpStart Kindergarten students in spinning to their count of five.