Jesse is a student who had been identified as needing special education during his time in Headstart. He had delays in speech, reading and math, and had a hard time leaving his mom and joining the classroom. Typically, a student like Jesse would go on to struggle in kindergarten and would have a hard time catching up to his peers.
Thankfully, Jesse was enrolled in the United Way of Northern Arizona’s KinderCamp program, a 20-day, 4-5 week, targeted intervention school-readiness summer program designed to help children with little or no preschool experience prepare for kindergarten. As his KinderCamp experience came to a close, Jesse was confident and independent, and excelling academically. His kindergarten teacher later noted that he no longer needed special education services.
In Arizona today, only one in five children have access to quality early learning. The goal of the Arizona Education Progress Meter is to increase that to 45 percent, so that more of our youth are getting the social, emotional and academic experiences they need to be ready for kindergarten, thereby setting the stage for long-term success.
A partnership of United Way of Northern Arizona (UWNA), Arizona Community Foundation of Flagstaff, Arizona Public Service, Coconino County and the school districts in Flagstaff, Williams, Winslow, Page and Pinetop Lakeside, KinderCamp was established in 2005 to help children develop by:
- Building social and emotional skills that support learning such as following directions, taking turns, relating with others, and learning in a classroom setting with other children;
- Increasing pre-literacy and math skills;
- Creating an environment that fosters independent-thinking by allowing each child to experience learning by manipulating, investigating, asking questions and taking risks;
- Making families more comfortable with a formal school setting by familiarizing them with resources, teachers, staff and routines;
- Providing a collaborative environment for preschool and kindergarten teachers to work together to share knowledge, expertise and best practices for teaching pre-kindergartners.
To find kids who are most at need, KinderCamp targets those who have not had quality learning experiences outside of the home, so that they can prepare for kindergarten. Beyond that, there is also an emphasis on those for whom English is not spoken regularly in the home. The classrooms that students encounter are staffed by certified kindergarten teachers and paraprofessionals. Much like a traditional preschool, they cover the basics of letters, shapes, colors, and more.
And because a child’s education is a family affair, educational teams engage families in their children’s formal education through events such as Family Orientation Nights and Bridging Over Ceremonies, and through home visits made by teachers where parents receive literacy kits and one-on-one attention.
KinderCamp is being held in eight schools across northern Arizona with a total of 15 classrooms and is projected to serve 300 children in 2017 alone. And it’s making a difference for each student who enrolls, as nearly all show significant improvement in academic skills. Kindergarten teachers in the area have even noted that children who complete the course are more prepared and ready to learn in the kindergarten classroom.