Stepping off the bus Thursday morning a group of 20 pre-kindergartners looked up with round eyes at the door of Southwick Elementary School.
For many of these children it was their first experience with the United States educational system. Almost all the children were either Burmese or Hispanic and can not speak English. None of them have had the advantage of American pre-school. Figuring out what to do with a box of cereal and a carton of milk was their first challenge as they were immediately taken to breakfast.
The children are all a part of a new four-week program called Kindergarten Countdown, through United Way of Allen County. The agency is partnering with Community Transportation Network, East Allen County Schools, Fort Wayne Community Schools and Lutheran Health Network. The pilot program is at three area schools this year: Southwick, Fairfield and Adams elementary schools, with about 55 students participating.
Lutheran Health Network has provided volunteers to help out, said Eric Looper, CEO of St. Joseph Hospital. Looper's daughter has just moved from kindergarten to first grade, so he said it was an easy choice to help because he sees the value in having children prepared for their first year of school.
Todd Stephenson, president and CEO of United Way of Allen County, said nearly half the students in Fort Wayne start unprepared in kindergarten. Statistics prove if they are ready for school they will succeed and are more likely to graduate from high school, earn higher wages and hold a job.
The children will be learning acceptable behavior in the classroom as well as concentrating on their language skills and development. The hope is by giving them a taste of what is in store for them this fall they will be more relaxed and better able to learn when the semester begins.
United Way of Allen County is funding the program because public schools lack the funding to provide summer programs. The hope is that United Way will be able to expand this year's pilot program.
“School is fun and exciting,” said Kenneth Folks, the new superintendent of East Allen County Schools.
Folks is hoping by giving these students the help they need they will be better able to participate in the joy of learning this fall.