$25K grant to help with transition to kindergarten


HUNTINGBURG — For the county’s youngest students, making the transition from preschool to kindergarten can be a challenge.

For the first time, they’re sitting in a classroom setting for eight hours a day, eating lunch in a school cafeteria and being led around the halls in straight lines. For a lot of the students, it’s a whole new world that takes some adjustment. That’s why the Southwest Dubois County School Corporation is partnering with the preschool programs that feed into Huntingburg and Holland elementaries to smooth out the transition. And the community recently received a $25,000 grant from The Strong Start Community Initiative to boost their efforts.

“[The initiative] is going to give us statewide and national best practices,” Southwest Schools Director of Curriculum Melissa Boeglin said. “Then we take that and adapt it to what we want to do.”

As the school corporation works with its preschool partners — Color My World and A Kid’s Place in Huntingburg, HUMmingbird Day Care Ministries in Holland and Tri-CAP in Jasper ­— transition plans will focus on six major areas: community participation through public and private partnerships; joint participation by K-12 and early childhood education stakeholders; joint professional development opportunities for preschool and kindergarten teachers; family engagement; supports for at-risk students; and data to set the current level of kindergarten readiness and to set goals.

The grant comes as Boeglin was already reaching out to area preschools to improve the transition process. In October, Boeglin said, the corporation’s kindergarten teachers and local preschool teachers got together to brainstorm ways to make the transition better. Then, in December, Boeglin learned about the Strong Start Community grant.

As she went through the grant process, she received letters of support from Huntingburg Mayor Denny Spinner, the Huntingburg Chamber of Commerce and the day cares that she added to the application package, which showed the community already had a start on two of the six focuses of the grant.

Now, Boeglin said, the meetings between kindergarten and preschool teachers will continue as the group figures out how to build on what they already do. For the school corporation, that will mean having the kindergarten teachers at kindergarten roundup to run the incoming assessments, enroll students, and meet parents and future students. There will also be more data sharing between the corporation and the preschools.

At the preschool level, changes will include working more closely with the school corporation, having kindergarten teachers come read to the preschool students and meeting the parents sooner.

The preschools are all on board.

“We believe that in order for children to have future school success, it’s important for us to work with the schools,” said Angie Sander, executive director of HUMmingbird Day Care Ministries.

Sander said her preschool teachers already keep in contact with kindergarten teachers at Holland Elementary to stay up to date with changes in the kindergarten curriculum and to hear about what students struggle with most.

“The biggest difference is the structure of the day,” Sander said. “They’re going to be in school for a longer part of the day, and they’ll be having lunch.”

Often, learning how to navigate a school cafeteria is a daunting task for new kindergartners, Sander said, so they put lunch trays in their dramatic play areas and practice going through lunch lines with their students.

At A Kid’s Place, Director Deanna Vonderheide said she most often hears that the students with challenging behaviors struggle most. That’s why A Kid’s Place emphasizes social-emotional learning alongside their academic curriculum. The goal is to teach students to work in groups with different kinds of people before they enter kindergarten, Vonderheide said. A Kid’s Place also focuses on making education a community effort that includes teachers and parents.

“As long as we’re all working together to help that child, that’s going to set them up to be even more successful,” she said.

As the school corporation and preschools move through their semester of planning, the community effort behind education will become a focal point. As Boeglin said, “We’re all one big team.”

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