Jump Start boosts kindergartener confidence

Additional Jump Start programs target sixth- and ninth-graders

8/29/2017 | TACOMA, Washington

“Hands at our sides,” teacher Ginger Johnson calls out. “And smiles on our faces.”

Her soon-to-be kindergarten students eagerly comply, breaking into camera-ready grins as they head back to their Fern Hill Elementary classroom from recess. A late August sun blazes overhead.
Kindergarten students won’t start their first full day of school until Sept. 11—five days after the Sept. 6 first day of school for most older Tacoma students. (Teachers meet with parents of kindergarteners during those first days of the new school year.)

But students at Fern Hill and throughout Tacoma Public Schools got a sneak peek at kindergarten—four hours per day, for four days in August—through the district’s free Jump Start program.

Jump Start also helps introduce incoming sixth graders to Tacoma middle schools and gives ninth graders a taste of high school.

The program has operated at all Tacoma elementary schools, middle schools and comprehensive high schools for two summers, after the district piloted the program at several schools.

“We’re creating a system-wide culture of this being the norm,” said Kerry Sutton, who oversees summer education programs for Tacoma Public Schools. 

Sutton notes that all three Jump Start levels include both academic and social-emotional learning components.
Practicing school routines early means kids learn to hit the ground running with academics when school starts.

Education researchers have documented the relationship between children’s early school experiences and later academic achievement. Research also shows that more outreach to families at the start of kindergarten—letters and phone calls to parents, orientation nights and other programs—produce more positive outcomes by the end of kindergarten.

Jump Start is expected to keep growing

Building stamina

Kindergarten Jump Start introduces kids to the fundamentals they’ll need when school begins, everything from walking in line to eating in the cafeteria. Jump Start helps them become familiar with their school building, their classmates and teachers before school officially starts.

Michelle Rahl-Lewis, assistant director for Early Learning, notes that while many children have already experienced being away from home at daycare or in preschool before they start kindergarten, others have not. 

“One reason we chose to make Jump Start a little longer is to build stamina for kids and parents for a six-hour school day away from home,” she said.

The district automatically registers students for Jump Start when they enroll in kindergarten, but participation is voluntary. 
During Jump Start, kindergarteners have their school to themselves. They learn the rhythms of classroom routines and work on simple counting, letter recognition and listening skills.

Johnson opens her class with a welcoming exercise. As she writes a “good morning” message on an easel, she asks students to help fill in some words she intentionally leaves blank, spelling them out, one letter at a time.
Jump Start student sharing

Jump Start student sharing
Jump Start students learn to share

She talks about sharing, then gives students an opportunity to talk about things they like to share.

“I like to share with my friends,” said student Jordan Wells.

Jump Start puts kids—and parents—at ease.

“Kindergarten is a big step for the kids,” said Fern Hill Principal Scott Monson. “But it’s a big step for the parents, too.”

Jamillah Adjepong, mother of Fern Hill kindergartener K’Andre Robinson, said she’s glad her son learned who his teacher is and became familiar with his school through Jump Start.

Fazema Wells, Jordan’s mom, said he woke up eager to get to school each day during Jump Start.

“I think it’s great,” she said of the program. “I’m not so worried about him jumping in there with so many kids.”

Follow the leaders

Families say that Jump Start helps make the first day of school less stressful for them.

“They can bring in their school supplies, meet some of the teachers and have the experience of leaving their little one at school for the first time without the excited commotion of the first real day of school,” Johnson said.

At Jump Start, she adds, children find out that kindergarten is a place to “learn, grow and explore within a supportive structure.”

Kindergarten teacher Ginger Johnson says Jump Start boosts student confidence

Johnson’s students report they like many things about kindergarten, including toys and snacks.

“I learned how to go to school,” K’Andre said of his Jump Start experience. “And I learned how to be nice to my friends.”

“It is wonderful how less scary the first day of kindergarten is when you have a friend,” said Johnson, who taught Jump Start at Fern Hill this year with teacher Marissa Poole.

 “The confidence our Jump Start kindergarteners experience the first day of school is contagious,” Johnson said, adding that students who don’t attend Jump Start look to Jump Start alumni as natural leaders during the early days of the school year.
“They march in knowing what to do, and some of their peers simply follow their lead,” she said. “It’s an exciting event to witness—learning from each other on the first day of school.”