Lighting the SPARK for Education

Two-week Get Ready for School program prepares children for kindergarten

Kindergarten readiness is important – beyond the first day of school.

That’s why several teachers in Summit County chose to serve students during the Get Ready for School program this summer.

IMG_1085_smallGet Ready for School is a program of Supporting Partnerships to Assure Ready Kids (SPARK) – a free, family-focused kindergarten readiness program to help 3- and 4-year-old children get ready for kindergarten. Get Ready for School was designed and implemented by kindergarten and preschool teachers, speech-language therapists and SPARK parent partners.

“The goal of the program is to orient children to the rules and routines of a kindergarten classroom and to school in general, as well as to develop literacy, communication and social skills important for success in kindergarten,” says Carol Reynolds, SPARK coordinator.

Students who participate in Get Ready for School attend the program for two-hour sessions for six days prior to the first day of kindergarten.

“Margaret Roberts, SPARK’s literacy specialist, organized Get Ready for School for Summit County,” Reynolds says. “She did a fantastic job organizing the program, which is based on Ohio’s educational content standards and Summit Education Initiative’s analysis of Transition Skills Summary results.”

Get Ready for School was implemented at Barberton East Elementary School, Findley Community Learning Center (CLC), Glover CLC, Leggett CLC, McEbright CLC, Seiberling CLC and Woodridge Primary.

A New Experience

Valerie Rego, a kindergarten teacher at Barberton East Elementary School, has taught kindergarten for 27 years.

“What I love about teaching kindergarten is the growth is so enormous during that year; kids leave writing and reading,” she says.

Get Ready for School

Valerie Rego practices rhyming and number writing with students in her classroom at Barberton East Elementary.

Rego’s Get Ready for School class, which ranged from five to eight students each day, learned how to rotate among activity centers in the classroom, how and where to put things away, how to properly hold a book and so much more.

“That’s what I love about kindergarten – how much kids are into reading books,” Rego says. “We even went over how to turn pages in a book, and I pointed out where the words are; some definitely had exposure to this, and others didn’t. We encompassed a lot, which was a great benefit to the students.”

Sandy Shoemaker, who teaches kindergarten at Glover CLC, loves the opportunity to meet some of her students and their parents early, in a no pressure, small group environment. She returned to Get Ready for School for a second year this summer.

“It’s a whole new experience for children coming to an unfamiliar school,” Shoemaker explains. “Going to kindergarten can be intimidating; the school seems so huge to kids, which we, as adults, take for granted. We even show students the office, lunchroom and restrooms. Get Ready for School is a low-key introduction to kindergarten, but it also jump-starts expectations for the year.”

According to Dina Edwards, who taught a Get Ready for School class at Woodridge Primary this year, “Get Ready for School is a valuable experience for young children to have so they come to school with success and familiarity. I have already seen my students in the building after school began, and I’ve gotten hellos and hugs from them, with looks of excitement and gratitude to see a familiar face.”

Get Ready for School

Dina Edwards plays a matching game with her Get Ready for School students at Woodridge Primary to practice rhyming skills.

Lori Alamin says her class at Leggett CLC reviewed an assortment of topics during Get Ready for School, from learning their full name, parents’ names, their birthday and the alphabet, to colors, shapes, rhyming words and numbers.

“The students were very smart in recognizing certain concepts,” Alamin says. Although she typically works with third through fifth graders in the autism unit at Voris CLC, Alamin appreciates her mother, SPARK’s recruiter, inviting her to teach during Get Ready for School this year.

Harnessing Parent Support

According to Shoemaker, SPARK staff helps Get Ready for School reach its greatest accomplishments by working with children in their homes before they attend school.

“I admire the teachers who work with children in their homes,” she says. “SPARK is a great program because it reaches kids most at risk – many of whom attend Glover. I was impressed by how much my students knew during Get Ready for School.”

SPARK’s interactions with parents is just as important.

“Our parent partners share Get Ready for School dates with parents as early as March, and we send mailings, permission slips and text reminders through the summer,” Reynolds says. “Although some parents forget to sign-up their child and/or show up, I’m thankful the parents who are involved enjoy and appreciate the Get Ready for School program.”

Reynolds adds, “Sometimes it’s difficult to get parents and/or schools invested in the program, but for parents on the fence about sending their child to public school, the personal contact we provide is really important.”

“The partnership the school and I were able to make with the parents was valuable because it’s critical for families to trust the people they leave their children with every day,” Edwards says.

Rego made a point to speak with the parents as they picked up and dropped off their children for Get Ready for School.IMG_1050_small

“Parents taking the time to get their children to the program means a lot – it makes a huge difference in the children’s education,” Rego says, adding she’s always been a parent educator, too. “They are their child’s first teachers,” she says. “Not only is preschool and kindergarten the foundation of education, but they’re also opportunities to educate and meet with parents.”

Working Toward Growth

Get Ready for School has been implemented in several Summit County elementary schools for five years. Based on previous years’ results, students who participate in Get Ready for School perform better on the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment and also through third grade.

“I can see these students becoming leaders in their classrooms,” Alamin says.

Get Ready for School

Carol Reynolds presents during the SPARK Celebration at Leggett CLC.

This year was the biggest year to date for Get Ready for School. Reynolds and the teachers involved are hoping for more participation next year.

Students who have completed this year’s SPARK program were invited to attend the SPARK Celebration on Tuesday, Aug. 16 at Leggett Community Learning Center.

Family Support is Key

Reynolds shares the story of a young mother who had to work during Get Ready for School, so her mother stepped in to take her preschool-aged child to the program. The child’s grandmother, however, did not own a car.

“SPARK was not only able to provide the child and her grandmother bus passes, but also passes for the child’s three older siblings,” Reynolds says. “All five family members attended all six days of the program. The older siblings worked quietly on other activities while the grandmother observed the sessions. Their dedication was impressive.”