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The Journal Gazette

  • Teacher Kelly Loebert works with students during Kindergarten Countdown on Friday at Waynedale Elementary School. The program helps prepare children and their families for school. (Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette)

Saturday, July 15, 2017 1:00 am

Kids counting down to kindergarten

Educators praise 4-week prep program

Austin Candor | The Journal Gazette

Children's laughter and clapping could be heard behind a classroom door at Waynedale Elementary School as United Way celebrated the fifth year of its Kindergarten Countdown program Friday morning.

The four-week summer program was created to help incoming students make the transition to kindergarten, especially those who are English language learners, lack pre-K experience or who teachers see as in danger of falling behind their peers.

“Overall in the five years we've served over 550 students between East Allen and Fort Wayne Community Schools,” said Tiffany Bailey, vice president of community impact for United Way of Allen County.

Waynedale principal Justin Arrkelin, East Allen County Schools acting superintendent Marilyn Hissong and Bailey all spoke briefly before opening the classroom doors where teacher Kelly Loebert was leading a class in a variety of activities.

“The verbal, speaking skills that I'm seeing coming from our kids is just amazing already, and we're only in Week 1,” said Hissong, who had stopped by the Southwick classrooms before attending the celebration at Waynedale. “Just a lot of group work going on this morning, which was exciting to see.”

Started in 2013, Kindergarten Countdown now works with 120 kids over seven classrooms, including those from schools such as Waynedale Elemantary, Southwick and Fairfield.

The program helps introduce the kids to a typical classroom atmosphere. For four hours each morning, kids are taught academic and social-emotional skills along with basic classroom etiquette.

“This gives them the opportunity to see what school is like, kind of lessen that anxiety and get them ready for that first day, where they're here a full day,” Arkkelin said.

He is looking forward to seeing how the students have improved when they arrive for the first day of school at Waynedale, now in its fourth year with the program.

“One of the greatest things that we get out of this program is the opportunity for students to truly be ready for school,” he said. “When school comes around in August ... they set the expectations, they model that for all the other students that are coming into the school. They are ready.”

Bailey sees leadership as a big step for the program's kids as they move forward in their education.

“They walk in the door the first day, and they're leaders. For a little kid that age to have that self-confidence in themselves and be able to help out a classmate where they're not having to rely on somebody else to do that, that's powerful stuff for a kid,” Bailey said.

With Kindergarten Countdown already implementing developmental health screenings, Arkkelin sees a bright future for the program.

“That gives families a good idea of where their kids are, to come into kindergarten and have a better understanding of where they are academically already and developmentally,” Arkkelin said. “(It) gives teachers a better idea of what to do with them, it gives families some idea of what to do. It's already been a great addition.”

acandor@jg.net