By John Higgins
Beacon Journal staff writer
Kindergarten poses challenges for a 5-year old that most older kids probably don't remember, such as how to open that school lunch.
''The school lunch is provided in little paper containers and the plastic wrapping, and all the straws and the cartons, those tend to be challenging to little people who haven't experienced them before,'' said Janice Kroeger, associate professor in early childhood education at Kent State University.
Lunch and breakfast were included in a two-week camp for 33 incoming kindergarten students that finished Friday at Crouse school. The children also practiced lining up, playing together and going over typical kindergarten reading and math skills.
It was the second year of the Bridge to Kindergarten program, a collaboration between KSU and Project GRAD Akron, which has helped students in the Buchtel cluster graduate high school and college since 2002.
The children will be attending kindergarten at Crouse, Rankin and Schu
macher schools in West Akron.
Most of the kids had some kind of preschool experience, Kroeger said.
Jahniya Smoot didn't attend preschool, but the 5-year-old plunged right into the camp and especially enjoyed painting and going to the park every day.
How did her father, Damon Smoot, know she was enjoying it?
''A couple days, she left without saying 'bye.' She's excited,'' he said.
Jordon Lewis Jr. turns 5 next week. Although he had been to day care, the camp was much more like school, especially because he'll be going to Crouse.
''He didn't know what to expect,'' said his mother, Cori Hullum-Lewis. She and Jordon's father, Jordon Lewis Sr., watched him get his certificate Friday.
Akron is one of a dozen sites around the country to host the Houston-based Project GRAD (Graduation Really Achieves Dreams), which seeks to boost high school and college graduation rates.
The same day the kids finished the kindergarten camp, incoming ninth-graders finished their summer program geared toward helping them make the transition to high school.
''I really didn't even know that Project GRAD stayed with you through high school, so by starting now, that's really great,'' Hullum-Lewis said. ''We've definitely got college plans.''
Kroeger said most of the children this year had good academic skills.
''We saw lots of kids with high counting and really good name recognition,'' she said. ''Surprisingly, the harder thing for a lot of children is the social skills: getting along with each other, playing together without being aggressive when you get frustrated. So we had a lot of conversations about 'how do we take care of each other?' and things like that.''
The camp also helped parents establish good wake-up and bedtime rituals for their children. Getting off to school on time means most kids should be tucked in and asleep by 9 p.m. or earlier, Kroeger said.
''We're making sure the parents know that the kids should have about nine to 10 hours of sleep every evening because that sets the stage for them to be relaxed and comfortable when they get up in the morning,'' she said. ''I would say rituals for bedtime would probably start around 8 p.m. and end around 9 p.m.''
The kids will have a bright red Project GRAD backpack stuffed with school supplies to take with them when students in Akron Public Schools return to classes Sept. 2.
Last year, 18 children participated. With better recruitment and grants from the United Way and Target, the program involved more kids this year.