CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Rianne Barroga, left, Aleeyah Lono and Joshus Puentes listen to a story being read by Diane Chinen at Waimanalo Elementary School as part of Keiki Steps to Kindergarten.
Program gets kids kindergarten-ready
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Entering kindergarten can be traumatic for children who have not gone to preschool, and a poor start in school can dog them for years.
Keiki Steps to Kindergarten aims to ease that transition by breaking kids in gently to the structured setting of schools, with lots of personalized attention. The free program is operating on 30 campuses this summer, up from 10 in 2005.
"It's great for the kids, great for the teachers and great for the parents," said Diane Chinen, a kindergarten teacher at Waimanalo Elementary who cut short her vacation to take part. "We get to know each other before the mob descends."
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Four-year-old Mia Krainer was perplexed when she was told to pound her little fists on two cookies sealed in a plastic bag on the table in front of her.
Since it began in 2004, the Keiki Steps to Kindergarten program has expanded statewide.
Source: Institute for Native Pacific Education and Culture
Her first instinct was to pull them out and eat them. But over the last two weeks, she and her classmates at Waimanalo Elementary School have learned to listen to their teacher. So she complied with the strange request.
Listening to the teacher is the sort of lesson highlighted in Keiki Steps to Kindergarten, a three-week transition program that helps children with little or no preschool experience get off to a good start in elementary school.
The free program, created by the Institute for Native Pacific Education and Culture (INPEACE), has tripled in size in the last two years and is being offered at 30 public schools statewide this summer.
According to the 2006 Hawaii State School Readiness Assessment, four out of 10 students enter kindergarten with no preschool experience. That can trip them up socially and academically.
"They never really get off to the right start, and as they go on, they're always lagging behind," said Rae DeCoito, chief executive officer of INPEACE. "This project is about making friends, establishing routines, getting parents involved. This is really getting them off to the best possible start."
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Ronda Opiopio Armstrong reads a book to twins Monica, left, and Maria Tigilaut at Waimanalo Elementary School. The Keiki Steps to Kindergarten program is offered at eight Leeward Oahu schools, seven Windward Oahu schools, six Big Island schools, four Kauai schools, four Molokai schools and one Maui school.
INPEACE launched the program in 2004 with 126 students at seven schools, with a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and support from the Department of Education. Since then, Kamehameha Schools has helped broaden its reach to predominantly native Hawaiian communities statewide. More than 600 children are enrolled this summer on 30 campuses.
"We know that many in the Hawaiian community choose not to or cannot send their children to preschool," said Sherlyn Goo, co-founder of INPEACE. "We wanted to ameliorate the brutal transition to kindergarten."
Led by both a kindergarten teacher and a preschool teacher, classes are held on the campuses where the children will enter elementary school. They run for three hours every weekday morning for three weeks before school starts.
"On the first day, we had a bunch of screaming, kicking, yelling kids," said Ronda Opiopio-Armstrong, a preschool teacher from Kamehameha Schools who helped teach the Waimanalo class. "They were grabbing their parents and their parents were also crying. It was just a tough transition."
As the program wound up this week, the contrast with the first day was dramatic. The children were happy to come to school. They waited until it was their turn to hold the fuzzy "talking frog" before speaking at circle time. They stood in a neat line to wash their hands after the cookie pounding experiment.
That messy undertaking came after they listened to the book "The Very Busy Bugs," by Jack Tickle. They mixed their cookie crumbs into pudding to create "dirt," then plopped a sweet-sour candy worm into its new habitat before devouring the treat.
Gwen Villanueva, 5, sucked on her red-and-yellow worm, then pulled it out of her mouth to show it off to her teacher, Stephanie Pratt. "Auntie, look, I got the same color as you!" she said.
Pratt has been teaching kindergarten for three years at Waimanalo, and says the transition program is "like a dream, it's so perfect."
"The first day of kindergarten is so chaotic," she said. "A majority of kids don't have preschool experience. They have such difficulty separating from their parents. Last year was the first year with Keiki Steps, and it made it so much easier. They knew the routine, knew what was expected of them."
The program focuses on social and emotional adjustment, rather than catching up academically. It give kids a gentle, personalized introduction to the formal school setting.
It also helps their parents or caregivers get to know the school and how they can support their child's education. But getting families involved can be tougher. A recent event to introduce the school library and the importance of reading to kids at home attracted just four parents out of a class of 15 students.
"That's the one frustrating thing," Pratt said. "I was wondering what we could do -- can we make it mandatory?"
Keiki Steps to Kindergarten is offered at eight Leeward Oahu schools, seven Windward Oahu schools, six on the Big Island, four on Kauai, four on Molokai and one on Maui. The program was modeled after similar efforts by the Maui Good Beginnings Alliance.