The first day of school can be stressful for kids of all ages, but particularly kindergarteners, whether or not they’ve dipped their toes in the classroom waters of preschool or daycare. The Kingston City School District’s Kindergarten Academy was designed to change all of that.
Last week, elementary schools across the KCSD held Kindergarten Academies, with incoming students have the chance to get a feel for their new school ahead of the hustle and bustle of the start of the school year. Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Education Stacia Felicello said the program started several years ago, using Title I funding to open a Kindergarten Academy in George Washington and John F. Kennedy elementary schools, both of which fall between the 70-80 percent poverty range.
“We felt we really wanted to give the students and families a transition to school,” Felicello said. “The program was designed to run a week of half days where the kindergartners could come into the classroom, become acclimated with the school, and learn to just navigate simple things like the lunch line. Those things are just new to kindergarten students.”
The Kindergarten Academy also gives parents a chance to ask questions and see how kindergarten will work for their kids.
“It’s designed to get our parents as partners early on and have them become part of the school community,” Felicello said.
As the district continued developing transition programs for students making the leap from one level of education to the next, it also began expanding the Kindergarten Academy to its other elementary schools.
“We realized that the transitional years were really difficult for our students,” Felicello said.
This year, the Kindergarten Academy operated during the last full week of August, with schools with the highest needs — George Washington and J.F.K. — going four days. Crosby, Chambers and Edson elementary schools each offered a two-day Kindergarten Academy, while Graves and Myer went for one day each.
“I know all of the schools would like the four days, but we prioritized it based on the determined needs from the State (Education Department),” Felicello said.
Students arriving for the Kindergarten Academy meet with their teacher and teaching assistants, as well as the school nurse. They get acclimated to the classroom with introductory projects and learn to navigate the school building. Felicello said easing kindergartners into the school experience gets their academic year off to a good start.
Felicello, formerly a principal at both George Washington and Chambers elementary schools, said even then she noticed how well Kindergarten Academy students — and their parents — adjusted to their new environment.
“It went from five or six students who were hysterically sobbing, and parents sobbing, on the first day of school or the first week to literally none,” she said. “It took away that anxiety, which, you know, keeps our students from really adjusting. It took away the fear.”
Because of the Kindergarten Academy, Felicello said, students arrive for the first day of school ready to take on the world.
“They know some friends in their classroom already, they know their teacher, they know their environment,” she said. “They know what to do when they walked in. And our parents know what to do when they’re bringing their students to school. They weren’t so nervous about walking them to the classroom. It just really puts everyone’s mind at ease.”
Felicello said the Kindergarten Academy is a two-way street, making the transition easier for educators as well.
“It’s been really, really wonderful for even the principals,” Felicello said. “They get more time to just meet the families, talk to them about how to be an involved parent, talk about what they can do to support their child at home.”
The first day of school is Wednesday, September 7.