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William Walker kindergartners get a summer jumpstart

Elementary school kicked off its fifth annual summer program

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Kristen Kluthe, a kindergarten teacher, helps Greisy with writing a letter in the fifth annual summer program for incoming kindergartners at William Walker Elementary School. “Mrs. Kluthe, is this kindergarten?” asked 5-year-old Kemverlyn on her second day of summer school at William Walker Elementary School.

While she isn’t going to be in “official kindergarten” until the fall, she’s definitely getting a head start.

This week, William Walker kicked off its fifth annual summer program for incoming kindergartners.

For most of the kids, it’s their first classroom experience. Of last year’s 87 kindergarteners, only five or six attended outside daycare or preschool, said Principal Joann Hulquist.

“We’re going to be so smart, right?” asked Kemverlyn.

“You are!” said Julie Ramirez, one of the three teachers the kids worked with this week.

Kemverlyn and her classmates will attend the program four days a week for four weeks. Twenty-one kids are registered for the morning session and 14 are signed up for the afternoon session. The kindergarten summer program is funded largely through Title 1 dollars the school is eligible to receive.

“Summer school gives them an opportunity to learn basic skills, like holding a pencil, holding scissors, raising their hands,” said Kristen Kluthe, a kindergarten teacher also teaching summer school.TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Daniel takes part in an exercise in the fifth annual summer program for incoming kindergartners at William Walker Elementary School.

On the second day of class, kids rotated through stations where they learned literacy skills.

At Deborah Harpine’s station, they practiced copying their names with felt pens on plastic-covered sheets.

“Writing their names is one of the first things we do in kindergarten,” said Harpine, another teacher in the classroom.

At Ramirez’s station, students chimed in as she sang a song to help them identify the front and back covers of a book.

“Where do I start reading?” Ramirez asked the kids.

“At the front!” they responded.

During journal time, Kluthe used physical gestures to show the students to how to form letters.

Kluthe explains how to open a journal to the first blank page and write their names.

“I am Mrs. Kluthe,” she said as an example. She shows them how to write the letter “I” and then spells out “am.”

“What letter makes the sound mmm?”

“M!” Vladmir responded.

“Down, up, then over. Up, then over,” makes an ‘M,’ explained Harpine to the students. It’s the letter of the week.

Every week, the kids will take a book home related to a special letter. This week, it’s a book called “Mouse Count.”

The program gives kids a definite academic jump, but Hulquist said the social and emotional benefits kids reap make the biggest difference.

“They’ve had a chance to make some friends, to be separated from their family members, to develop relationships with the teachers,” said Hulquist.

“I think it’s amazing,” said Stephani Del Real, whose son Brandon is in the program. “They get to know their school.”

Brandon is one of the few students in the program who has been in a classroom setting before; he went to a co-op preschool that allowed parents to stay along with their kids.

“It really surprised me with how ready and excited he was” for the summer program, said Del Real. “He was like ‘Bye, Mom!’”

Others kids struggled with being separated from their parents for the first time.

For two mornings in a row, Daniel began to cry when his mother dropped him off.

“Once class got started, he did great,” said Harpine, noting that it was a much quicker transition the second day.

“We have this chance to work out their fears (of separation),” said Harpine.

Throughout the morning, kids practiced skills such as standing in a line, asking to use the bathroom and sharing with their classmates

“They’ll be the veterans when school starts in September,” said Ramirez.

Alexander lined up behind Daniel, followed by Brandon, Eddy and Kemverlyn.

“Follow the line!” said Harpine.

The kids walked through the hall to recess, where they learned playground rules and etiquette.

“Hands down, eyes looking forward, voices turned off,” said Kluthe as the kids walked.

“They practice a lot of things that many people take for granted,” said Hulquist. “They haven’t had the chance to learn those, and it can be overwhelming.”

When the kids came back inside, their teachers worked together to get them all calm and seated on the carpet.

“Carpet time is for listening,” Kluthe told the kids.

“Look, I’m doing criss-cross applesauce!” said Ian.

“Aqui, Daniela,” said Ramirez, showing her where to sit.

William Walker students come from a range of backgrounds and collectively speak 19 different languages, the most prevalent of those Spanish. Harpine, Kluthe and Ramirez are all ESL-certified.

“They are coming from multilingual families, which is awesome. But many haven’t had the opportunity to learn English yet,” said Hulquist.

During the school year, ESL instructors co-teach with grade-level teams.

“Kids pick up English fast,” said Kluthe.

She said that in kindergarten, there is a lot of hand-motioning and physical demonstration, which helps second language-learners. And to a certain extent, she said, all of the kids are learning English. Many teaching strategies work for ESL and native speakers alike.

Still, ESL students face unique challenges. Many families come from countries where active parent engagement in a child’s schooling isn’t the norm.

“It’s a whole different culture for many of them,” said Hulquist.

She explained that the school gives parents resources that focus on encouraging literacy and conversation in their first language as well.

“Once we really explain the expectations and how they can help out to their greatest ability, they do amazing,” she said.

To find the students who would benefit most from a head start, the school reaches out to the families of potential students for the summer school program.

Many of those families are identified through the school’s “WE Walkers” program, a series of six events throughout the school year that invite parents and their 3- and 4-year-olds to participate in literacy and numeracy activities.

Others are invited through the school’s kindergarten orientation.

“A lot of it is spread through word of mouth in our communities,” said Hulquist.

A significant number of William Walker families live in apartment complexes and duplexes, she said. Parents who are neighbors tell each other about school news and find multilingual posters about school programs in apartment complex laundry rooms.

After recess, kids matched a variety of blocks in different shapes onto designs printed on paper.

“Look at, look at!” said Vladmir, arranging his blocks. “I’m done with my robot. It’s a block robot.”

“Mine is a person robot,” said Daniela.

When Harpine asked the kids to help her put the blocks away, Ian began to cry.

“I wanna keep playing with the blocks,” he said. Daniela agreed.

“School is fun,” she said, working at Ramirez’s table.

Hulquist is amazed anew each year when she sees the transformation kindergartners make throughout their first year of school.

“At the end of the year, they’re writing stories, they’re illustrating, they’re having long, detailed conversations, they’re assessing themselves. It’s pretty phenomenal,” said Hulquist.

“We just know they need this extra jumpstart.”