‘Countdown to Kindergarten’ prepares kids for school

  • Meredith Wilson with the students she worked with as part of Countdown to Kindergarten (from left): Angel Villalobos, Darren Sanders, Shalayah Badger, LaNiya Johnson, Leilani Clark and AnaStashia Frederick. Not pictured is ALaila McMillan.
  • Macedonia Elementary kindergarten teacher Cassie Bates is pictured with five of the seven students who participated in the Countdown to Kindergarten program. From left: (front row) Ja’Nyla Donaldson, Zulema Diaz, Daria Castillo (sister to Anthony Castillo), Anthony Castillo, Troy Collins; (back row) Ca’Mari Johnson and Bates. Not pictured: Kellynn Butler and Nevaeh Holman.
  • Virgil A., Promise J., Andrea C., Damari W., and Regan B. with Kelly Edwards Elementary kindergarten teacher Kim Richardson. Not pictured: Brennan W.

School officially started August 17, but 20 youngsters counted down to kindergarten throughout the summer.

The students were part of Countdown to Kindergarten, a state-funded program through First Steps. Locally, seven students from Barnwell Primary School, six from Kelly Edwards Elementary in Williston and seven from Macedonia Elementary in Blackville participated in the program.

During the six-week program, the students were visited once a week at home or an alternative location by a kindergarten teacher from their school. In most cases, the teacher is the same one the students have during the year. This makes kindergarten, which can be “intimidating” for youngsters as some have never been in a school environment before, easier by providing information and building relationships, said Doris Mitchell, the executive director of Barnwell County First Steps.

“I love this program. From talking to teachers and parents, it helps to ease the transition,” said Mitchell.

Carolyn Holloway said her granddaughter, Leilani Clark, benefitted from the instruction she received from Barnwell Primary School kindergarten teacher Meredith Wilson. “It made her more comfortable about coming to K5,” said Holloway. “It was a wonderful part of my granddaughter’s summer.”

The program keeps students’ minds “stimulated” during the summer as they work on new things, review pre-kindergarten standards, and learn how to use new learning tools. They also receive new books for their home library, “which in return increases their vocabulary as they are read to, and begin to read with myself and other adults,” said Kim Richardson, a teacher at Kelly Edwards Elementary who has participated in Countdown to Kindergarten for six summers.

The three Barnwell County teachers who led the program agreed that they enjoyed participating in Countdown to Kindergarten as it was mutually beneficial for everyone involved.

Cassie Bates, who has led the program at Macedonia Elementary for two summers, said it “promotes and encourages the building of imperative, trusting relationships with students and their families prior to school beginning in August.”

“It gives me an insight into those students’ lives, and helps me prepare lessons/curriculum based on their needs,” said Richardson.

Wilson, who participated for the first time this year, said the most important aspect is building relationships - between teachers and students, teachers and parents, teachers and families, and, ultimately, families and schools. “They see that I am on their side and I truly want them to succeed. I am thrilled that I was able to have this experience and I look forward to continuing these relationships throughout the year and as these sweet little people grow up.”

In addition to building relationships, the program gave participants a boost in the educational process as teachers included an academic component in each weekly visit.

“At the beginning it was just getting to know one another. Then we moved on to a snapshot of each of the academics areas – reading, math, science and social studies,” said Wilson, who had the children writing from day one with writing journals, which will also be a daily component in her classroom. She said they worked on letters and sounds over the summer to “make their reading progress a little faster.”

Richardson said one reason the program is so beneficial is because students receive “many materials, authentic literature, school supplies, and math, language, and science manipulatives they can use to help them explore and become successful learners.”

The lessons also help parents by showing them how to work with their children. Teachers used a toolkit of various items, such as number puzzles, magnetic letters and books, to model how parents and guardians can effectively work with their children using lessons and activities that are aligned to the state’s college and career ready standards for kindergarten.

“After the completion of each lesson, the materials and hands-on learning activities were given to the students and their families to continue reinforcing learning at home. The students looked forward to getting to have the resources at the end of each visit,” said Bates.

It was evident throughout the summer that the parents were “welcoming and willing to do anything to help their children,” said Wilson. That sentiment was echoed by Bates and Richardson.

The program teaches parents and guardians the importance of reading to their children while limiting television time, said Richardson.

“When parents and teachers work together, you can only end with success,” said Bates.

While their students are better prepared, the teachers also benefitted.

“I definitely think it has made me a better teacher. It has given me an insight and understanding into my students’ everyday lives,” said Richardson.

Bates said it was helpful to get to know the families and their cultural practices prior to school. She tried a few cultural dishes, such as chorizo with scrambled eggs and homemade tamales.

Countdown to Kindergarten ended with a celebration at each school.