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Kindergarten Can Be Overwhelming – Some Educators Try to Ease the Way

– Good morning, kindergartners. – [Lisa] This has the look and feel of a typical kindergarten class. It’s designed to get students
ready for the real thing, says teacher Donna Shinagawa. – It’s a preview to kindergarten, so we try to make it as similar
to kindergarten as possible. – [Lisa] This summer program in Portland, Oregon, runs for three weeks, helping ease the
transition to kindergarten. – [Donna] Put your thumb in like this, and two fingers like that. – [Lisa] Some have never
attended preschool. Others struggle with poverty, or their first language isn’t English. The start of kindergarten can
be overwhelming for anyone, but especially for these children. Mom, Susan Lee, and her
daughter, Sukie Chen, are taking part. Why did you think it was
important for Sukie to be here? – She can meet the teachers and the new classmates here first, and then I think is better for her to get used to the others. – [Lisa] The program, offered in a dozen of Portland’s high-poverty schools, is helping some 240 children this summer. Here at the Harrison Park
School, those participating speak eight different languages, and at least a third have never
been in a classroom setting. What is your goal for
the kids in this program? – Just to be confident about school. Know that school is fun, and
it’s a place that’s safe. – [Lisa] Students learn everything from how to navigate the cafeteria, line up in the hallways,
use their lockers, even how to bid parents goodbye. – Goodbye.
– Bye-bye. – [Lisa] There’s also a big
emphasis on social skills, which studies show can be a major factor in early school success. – How do we make friends? Raise your hand if you’d like to share how do we make a friend. – Can three weeks really make
that much of a difference? – Yes, it really helps build community. The parents also feel comfortable when they drop the kids off. They know the building,
they know the teachers, they know the classroom, and
the kids feel the same way too. – [Lisa] Sukie is settling in. – In my class in one day, I got a sticker. – You got a sticker?
– Two times in a row. – We will build connections
with each other. You know the importance
of coming to school and not feeling isolated? – [Lisa] Nancy Hauth oversees the program in the Portland public schools. – We know that families who
are coming into kindergarten without a preschool
experience really struggle with the start to kindergarten, understanding expectations. And we know that they
also start kindergarten with a higher level of stress. – [Lisa] In a study of
preschool enrollment in 36 countries, the United
States ranks near the bottom, above just three other countries. In the U.S., publicly funded pre-k serves only about 44% of four-year-olds and 16% of three-year-olds. Education analyst, Aaron
Loewenberg, says that’s a problem. – So it’s important to realize that, while these summer programs
are definitely helpful with the transition to kindergarten, they’re not at all a replacement
for high-quality pre-k. A high-quality pre-k program also is gonna help them build the academic and social-emotional skills that will help them be successful once they get into the
kindergarten classroom. – [Lisa] Those in Portland agree. But in Oregon, there are limited state and federally funded preschool slots for low-income students,
so the district packs as much as it can into
these three summer weeks. – Kindergarten is so foundational. This is where children
are learning to read. This is where they’re learning how to interact with each other. They’re gaining huge math skills. It is the very basis of the
rest of their education. ♪ L-M-N-O-P ♪ – Getting these young students excited and ready for kindergarten is only part of this summer program. Another key element is getting
their parents ready as well. – So welcome. – [Lisa] Parents gather for six mornings over the three week program. To make it easy, there’s food,
childcare, and translators. (speaks in a foreign language) It’s all to encourage parents to be an active part of
their children’s education. – If you guys do stuff with math. – [Lisa] That’s critical
to student achievement. – Another 10. – [Lisa] The program allow parents to get to know each other,
build their own support system, and connects them to the school. Here’s principal Leah Dickey. – It really helps parents
feel like they have a voice, and that they know answers and they’re not just
coming into this blindly. I think we forget with
parents, oftentimes, of kindergartners that they
have never done this before. Many of them have never done this and it’s just as scary for them
as it is for their students. – I was a teacher in
China before I move here. So I know that school and the family is a really good bridge to get it together. We need to know each other
to help the kids to grow. – Today we are going to talk
about the school calendar. – [Lisa] The school staff
stresses attendance, how critical it is to get
students to school every day, and on time. Nationally, about one in 10 kindergartners is chronically absent. It’s a big concern, and in Oregon the numbers are even worse. – Reach really high. – Ultimately, we’re
trying to change behaviors both in parents and in kids. – [Lisa] Researcher Beth Tarasawa has analyzed Portland’s
early transition program and says students who attend
are less likely to be absent, not just in kindergarten,
but through third grade. – So when you’re seeing promising results in the very populations
that we’re trying to reach, that we’ve struggled to historically, in our school systems, in our
traditional public schools, that is something that’s very noteworthy. – [Lisa] She also looked
at early reading skills and found mixed results. In most years, summer program participants showed more growth than their classmates. In other years, they did not. – We can’t expect a three
week program to come in and eradicate what years of poverty and trauma, potentially,
in these kids’ lives have exposed them to. But those first few years
without this intervention can look a lot different
for these same kids. – [Lisa] Many districts make efforts to ease the entry into kindergarten, maybe an open house or
meet the teacher event, but few districts have as
extensive a program as Portland’s. At about $14,000 a school, supporters say it’s a
relatively affordable way to help families hit the ground running on that first day of kindergarten. – See if you can find any more E’s. – [Students] E! – [Donna] Oh, you found an E. – [Student] I found it. – [Lisa] For the PBS News
Hour and Education Week, I’m Lisa Stark in Portland, Oregon. (upbeat music)

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