For the next post in our Kindergarten Countdown Camp (KCC) summer blog series that kicked off in Waukegan on June 19th, we’re sharing an article published from Lake County News-Sun by Emily K. Coleman, Contact Reporter.
Five-year-old Delilah Shanjani has been coming home each day with a new letter to teach her parents in sign language.
She’ll make the letter sound, make the sign and then say a word that starts with it, said her mother, Lourdes Shanjani.
Delilah is one of nearly 200 Waukegan School District 60 preschool students enrolled in a summer enrichment program designed to prepare them for kindergarten in the fall, said Verna Wilson, the district’s early childhood and professional learning coordinator.
Lourdes Shanjani said she didn’t know quite what to expect from the summer school program. She was used to a summer school setup designed to help students who were falling behind, but this one was being sold as summer enrichment.
She decided to put her daughter’s name into the lottery and said she’s “super happy” she did.
“She is very excited and eager to come to school every day,” Lourdes Shanjani said. “She loves coming to school. She’s learning many new things.”
District 60’s revived summer school programs for elementary school and middle school students are all designed around the idea of enrichment instead of remediation. While those programs were something district staff has been working on for months, Wilson said it wasn’t until late April that the district found out it received the grant funding needed to make a preschool program possible.
The idea is to help children build the stamina needed to go from a 21/2-hour preschool program to a six-hour, full-day kindergarten classroom; teach them how to move through transitions between subjects, lunch and recess; and improve their knowledge of letters, shapes and phonics, Wilson said.
“We’re laying a foundation in summer school,” she said. “It’s not just all play.”
Kindergartners today are expected to know a lot more than they used to, said kindergarten teacher Jessica Beck, who is one of the instructors working the summer school program. She added that the rigor is “way more intense” than the students would be used to in preschool.
Beck has been slowly transitioning the feel of her classroom from more of a preschool style to a kindergarten one by, for example, lessening the amount of playtime they get each week, she said.
This initial rollout was open only to preschool students enrolled in the district’s preschool program, not to children in private preschools or children who weren’t in preschool at all, because the funding was restricted to that preschool program, Wilson said.
The district has partnered with United Way of Lake County for the past three years to provide a kindergarten summer prep program as part of its Success by 6 initiative, said Edna Galvan, the initiative’s program manager.
The Kindergarten Countdown Camp, a free summer learning program, targets students who have little to no preschool experience, according to United Way’s website.
About 40 students were enrolled in the Waukegan program across two classrooms, each with two certified teachers, Galvan said. One classroom was English-language and the other was bilingual.
The program is also set to offer a session for the first time in Beach Park with 30 students across two classrooms, she said. This is the first time United Way of Lake County has expanded the program to a community outside Waukegan.
The goal is to continue growing in some way, perhaps adding another classroom in Waukegan, growing in Beach Park or expanding to another community, Galvan said.
“It’s just an opportunity, for these students who didn’t go to preschool, just to have them catch up,” she said. “A lot of these students don’t know how to hold a pair of scissors or write their first name. It also helps parents get used to sending their kids to school.”
District 60 also hopes to expand its program, Wilson said.
The district had 642 preschool students enrolled this past school year plus another 89 special-education preschool students, Wilson said. Of those, 431 were headed to kindergarten this coming fall.
She’d like to be able to reach all of those students next year, building upon the 186 who have attended this summer, she said.
That would mean about 38 percent of the district’s approximately 1,130 kindergartners would have access to the program next year, according to district enrollment data.
The district plans on surveying both teachers and parents to get their feedback on the program as well as to see if there are any other changes that need to be made, Wilson said. She also plans on conducting a longitudinal study to see how the students that participated in this program did compared to their peers.
Shanjani said she thinks the district is doing its part to help families participate in the program by providing transportation and both breakfast and lunch. But she said she also hopes the program expands beyond just the students already enrolled in preschool.