Begindergarten has started up for the summer in Cass County.
A kindergarten readiness program, begindergarten offers incoming kindergarten students in Cass County an opportunity to participate in over 15 hours of kindergarten readiness intervention each week, for six weeks during the summer.
The program is sponsored by United Way of Cass County. Peggy Scott, director of impact with United Way, said that begindergarten is part of the United Way’s Reading Railroad program, which began in 2011.
In response to community conversations 10 years ago, Scott said there was a need for an early learning program that helped boost school readiness for certain children. She explained that the goal of begindergarten is to bridge the gap between those who enter kindergarten prepared and those who do not.
“Through a grant with the United Way of Cass County, the Reading Railroad program was devised,” Scott said. “There are different aspects of the Reading Railroad program and one of them is Begindergarten.”
In order to help children acclimate to life in the public school system, begindergarten teaches children letters and words, math concepts and valuable social skills.
Kate Coryea, director of the begindergarten program, said that all of the kids at kindergarten roundup in Cass County are given an assessment to learn more about them. The assessment includes fine motor skill tasks, name writing, counting and letter, number, shape and color recognition — known by staff as the “seven super skills.”
“Every kid coming in to kindergarten is given this assessment,” Coryea said. “The kids are assessed by the kindergarten teachers — we use the same assessment across all of Cass County — we look at the results and if they score below a certain number, we invite them to begindergarten.”
In addition to the pre-kindergarten roundup assessment, Scott added that starting this year, teachers were able to identify and invite children based on certain classroom needs.
According to Coryea and Scott, 76 of the 90 county children invited are attending this year’s program. That number includes students from Logansport and Lewis Cass School Corporations.
Kids get off the bus at about 8:30 a.m. before meeting in their classrooms and heading to the cafeteria for breakfast. After breakfast, students are tasked with a variety of whole- and small-group activities to work on their seven super skills.
Students end the day with lunch, recess and a story before getting on the bus to go home. Three community volunteers and partners of the program — Chuck Newton and Angie Williams of Logansport Savings Bank, along with Dave Sievers, a retired local — spend time reading to the children once a week.
Over the years, the program has expanded from four teachers and four classrooms to six teachers and six classrooms. Each classroom includes a teacher and an instructional assistant who provide whole-group instruction along with small-group, hands-on activities.
Coryea discussed several program activities that engage kids and help them learn. From using shaving cream to write numbers, Playdoh to make letters, putting puzzles together, using dry erase boards and markers, using skittles and M&Ms to count and sort colors and more, these engaging hands-on activities assist children in learning basic literacy.
Coryea noted, however, that the social skills established in the program can be just as important as the academic ones.
“The academic skills are super important but we also see a lot of other benefits like learning social skills, school procedures and cafeteria routines,” said Coryea. “Even just simple things like how to open a milk carton and riding the bus — it’s so helpful.”
Scott said that even just one week’s worth of time in the program has led to noticeable improvements for participating students.
“Kids came in this Monday — our second week in the program — and they knew right where to go all day long,” Scott said. “They learned that in just five days ... it’s amazing.”
According to parent surveys sent at the end of the program each year, the Cass County begindergarten program has a 100 percent satisfaction rate.
“The parents love it — from them seeing a difference in their kids’ academic skills, to them seeing a difference in their ability to make friends,” Coryea said.
Coryea and Scott said the program can help comfort both kids and their parents. Children get to interact with other students and teachers throughout the program and they also get introduced to a public school building.
“There is less fear of coming to school too,” said Scott. “Some of them have never been to a big school before, so it can definitely reduce the first-day jitters of Kindergarten for everyone. The parents have been very pleased with the program.”
The program will end with a day at the Cass County Dentzel Carousel at Riverside Park where students will also get a free book and t-shirt.
In addition to funding from United Way of Cass County, Logansport and Lewis Cass School Corporations have also donated funds and materials to the program.
Reach Quentin Blount at email@example.com or 574-732-5130.