With varying levels of pre-K learning experiences, the first days of kindergarten can be challenging for students. While some can read, write and name colors, others are falling behind and still learning how to hold a pencil and spell their own name.
Jump Start to Kindergarten is a program that’s part of United Way’s ENGAGE. EMPOWER. GRADUATE. initiative, which is funded by United Way’s Women United and Emerging Leaders United. Jump Start to Kindergarten aims to prepare pre-K students for their first year of school and helps to close the achievement gap often created by living in poverty. The Jump Start to Kindergarten program spans two weeks at McPhee and Campbell Elementary Schools and includes activities aimed at building confidence, learning classroom structure and school rules.
Jump Start to Kindergarten would not be possible if it weren’t for the numerous volunteers that help out at the schools each year. This year, 260 volunteers helped with Jump Start to Kindergarten at McPhee and Campbell Elementary Schools.
Nancy Biggs, community volunteer and Chair of Women United, has volunteered at Jump Start to Kindergarten for two years. According to Biggs, without Jump Start to Kindergarten, many students would spend the first few weeks of school learning the basic expectations (holding a pencil and crayon appropriately, identifying their name, identifying numbers from 1 to 10) and would lag behind some of the others.
“When a teacher has 20 plus students, helping those who are lacking basic skills individually is nearly impossible,” said Biggs.
While a classroom typically only has one teacher during the school year, Jump Start to Kindergarten provides students with multiple volunteer mentors in one classroom. These volunteers provide the attention and help necessary to ensure students are feeling prepared for the first day of school.
Biggs said that this is why volunteering at Jump Start to Kindergarten is important. It gives students lacking essential skills an opportunity to learn them with the support of a caring and attentive adult.
“The one-on-one attention gives them [students] a chance to practice new skills correctly with the guidance of an adult,” said Biggs. “The ratio of adults to students helps them see school as a place where they can learn because they will be supported.”
Volunteer Rick Lacher of Black Hills Energy said that his favorite part of volunteering was to watch the kids come out of their shells and warm up to the outsiders.
On why it’s important for students to participate in Jump Start to Kindergarten, Rick said that “it’s almost a necessity to help the kids become more interactive with others.”
Biggs said, “We’re helping those without the ability to correctly hold a pencil, lack experience coloring, have no knowledge of English and difficulty following a routine, to name a few of the skills we help them learn, a chance to start the school year ready to learn at the level commonly expected of five-year olds.”
“Having educated citizens living in Lincoln begins with a sound start at the kindergarten level,” said Biggs. “Jump Start makes this possible for students at Campbell and McPhee.”