Summer program gives pre-kindergarteners a head start at school

Cutting with scissors. Holding a pencil. Sitting quietly and raising your hand. Leaving mom at home.

Pre-K teacher Alma Haggard reads a book with her summer class

These and many other skills are crucial to having a successful first year of kindergarten. However, if a child has never stepped foot in a school building, he or she may have trouble mastering these basic principles.

That’s where the Dalton Public Schools Summer Transition Program comes in.

Through this program, 32 soon-to-be kindergarteners who have never been to school — and often have never been away from their parents — have the opportunity to experience school during the summer months. The students are divided in to two classrooms, and they learn the skills they need to know in order to have a successful first year.

“It’s always good to have them prepared,” said DPS teacher Alma Haggard. “It makes a big difference when they can be prepared for the school atmosphere.”

The students arrive around 7:30 a.m. and stay until 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday at Blue Ridge Elementary. They study letters, read books as a class, explore in centers and learn the social skills that will give them a head start in the fall.

“Now, it’s as if they have always been in school,” Haggard said, remembering the tears and nerves many of her students had on the first day. “They feel comfortable. They feel safe.”

Rena Campo, who has two nephews in the program, has already seen her children growing and learning.

A group of pre-K students practice writing their names at the Dalton Public Schools summer transition program.

“They are all very excited about school,” she said. “And they like showing off what they’ve learned.”

Children are selected for the program based on their kindergarten applications. If the student has not been to a school prior to kindergarten, program administrators contact the family, visit their home and decide if the child meets the criteria for the program. Once they are selected, the children begin their summer work.

The program also offers workshops for parents, in which school administrators can build relationships and avenues of communication with the parents they will work with throughout the years. The parents become more involved in their child’s education and more invested in the value of learning after attending these events.

One parent, German Rodriguez, said through a translator that the workshops have given him incredible life skills and relatable information.

And he said he could already see his child learning from the program as well.

“He started off very shy and quiet,” Rodriguez said. “But now he is just blossoming.”

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