Fort Wayne – Kindergartners at Southwick Elementary made their way down a quiet, empty hallway toward the cafeteria for breakfast Thursday, carrying on their backs bags that were nearly as big as them.
The class of kindergartners has started school four weeks earlier than the school’s other students as part of a United Way initiative aiming to better prepare students for their first year of school.
Nearly half of kids in our community start school unprepared to learn, with one-fourth of children needing intensive help to catch up, said Todd Stephenson, president and CEO of United Way of Allen County.
The students were targeted by the schools because they had little or no early childhood education or are students who will learn English as a second language. The program, called Kindergarten Countdown, has one classroom at Southwick along with two at Fairfield Elementary and one at Adams Elementary. All three schools serve mostly minority students with more than 90 percent of students qualifying for free and reduced-price lunches.
The program is funded by the United Way and provided at no cost to the parents of the nearly 60 children participating. Lutheran Health Network and Community Transportation Network have partnered with United Way to provide volunteers, meals and transportation for the Southwick site.
Eric Looper, CEO of St. Joseph Hospital, was on hand passing out milk to students for their cereal. He said it was an easy decision for Lutheran Health Network to provide volunteers for the cause.
I have a daughter who just went through kindergarten, he said. It’s easy for me to appreciate the right foundation that kindergarten provides.
Kindergarten Countdown provides social and emotional adjustment time for kids and their parents. Students are also taught skills in literacy and language development. This is the pilot year for the program, but the United Way hopes to see it grow.
We hope that this is a program we can expand in years to come, Stephenson said.