If kindergartners can’t play together, then they can’t learn together.
That was a painful lesson learned Thursday as two young boys — equally teary-eyed after a hapless scuffle over a marble — sat face to face at Schumacher school, one holding an ice pack on the other’s head. Their altercation led educators in Project GRAD Akron, a program designed to help students transition through elementary and secondary education, to pull the boys aside until they learned to reconcile and negotiate their differences, instilling in them the social and emotional development necessary to strive in school.
Those boys and 29 other children will attend Crouse or Schumacher when school resumes Aug. 28. In the two-week Bridge to Kindergarten program, they acquire social skills necessary to commingle with their peers and comfortably navigate their first year in school.
The program also introduces students to a more rigorous classroom structure. Students sit through lessons, eat in lunchrooms, meet their principals and generally prepare to get along with other students.
Most of the kids who participate each year already have gained much experience mingling with other kids in preschool; only three students attending the Bridge to Kindergarten program this year did not previously attend a federally funded Head Start program or preschool.
But some Akron parents haven’t provided their children an enriching pre-kindergarten experience — one that researchers say fosters positive social and emotional development, without which learning becomes difficult.
Shana Bennett, family coordinator and the only paid employee at the nonprofit Project GRAD, tried to attract some of those parents.
“I reached out to every single registered kindergarten parent. And the sad fact is that the majority who responded were parents who were already motivated to get their kids that kind of enrichment experience,” Bennett said.
She littered day-care centers in West Akron with fliers advertising for the program. No parent responded.
Students who did enroll showed significant academic gains in only two weeks, especially among boys, who learned how to behave accordingly.
The lack of interest from some parents is indicative of another, larger issue: Parents want to help but aren’t aware of the resources available.
“That’s why we work with the parents all year,” Bennett said.
After the two-week kids’ course ends today, learning begins for the parents. Monthly workshops and home visits for parents provide knowledge of, and access to, the many resources available.
“The academic year is given to the parents, because that’s where [learning] starts,” Bennett said.
“They’re the child’s first teacher,” Laurie Curfman, director of programs, said, finishing the thought.
Bennett and Curfman have been surprised by the public’s view of parents as being apathetic or lazy. They suggested parents would use resources if they knew what was available.
“There’s a lot of things that we do for these parents. And for me, that’s the most beneficial part of this program,” Bennett said.
“When you help the parents to have a more stable family life, it helps the child. Trying to get the parents involved and understand the importance of participating in their child’s education is a big part of what Project GRAD is all about,” Curfman said, adding that other programs like Akron schools’ Project Ujima also facilitate conversation about access to resources in the community.
It was in one of these communities that a principal from Buchtel High School asked for help six years ago, inspiring Project GRAD to form the Bridge to Kindergarten program five years ago. It expanded the overall program originally launched in 2002 to help Akron’s youngest learners.
A part-time salary for the family coordinator, the nonprofit’s sole paid employee, and program supplies are afforded through a yearly $25,000 grant from the Akron Community Foundation.
Roughly another $25,000 in program expenses are composed of in-kind services from Akron schools and Kent State University, which provides graduate students in education paid through an America Reads grant to teach the two-week program.
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.