By Oliver Lazenby
One challenge that kindergarten teachers at Blaine Primary School face is how to educate kids with a broad range of abilities. Someone with several years of preschool experience may sit at the same table as someone with no school experience at all; some kids are ready for academic learning, while others don’t know to raise their hands to go to the bathroom, Blaine school district officials said.
To shrink that gap, the district is starting a new summer program that aims to prepare students for kindergarten. The program, called Bright K, will be taught during a six-week period from July 10 to August 17. Class will go from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. from Monday to Thursday, and the district will provide lunch, supplies and transportation.
“The vision for the program is to build relationships with families, have play-based learning activities and help kids become classroom ready,” said Blaine Primary School principal Nancy Bakarich. “The program will focus on skills like how to sit, how to play, how to win, how to lose: skills that some kids don’t come to kindergarten with.”
In addition to introducing kids to a classroom environment, students will learn some basic math and literacy skills as well, she said.
District officials are hoping to sign up about 45 kids for the pilot program this summer, which is about one-third of the kindergarten class. The kids will be separated into three classes of 15 students.
The district plans to assess kids as part of the kindergarten enrollment process to find the children who would benefit most from Bright K.
“Until we get the majority of our kids enrolled, we aren’t really going to know who is most in need of that support,” said district superintendent Ron Spanjer.
The district estimated that the program would cost $32,000. That money is coming from state and federal funding for special education and Title 1 programs. That funding is carried over from last year’s budget. If the program is successful this summer, the district will try to fund it permanently.
District officials anticipate that it could be tough to get enough kids enrolled to make the program worthwhile.
“A lot of times good ideas have a little harder time gaining traction if they take place in the summer,” Spanjer said.
Bakarich said the district will reach out to local preschools and daycares and recruit students during kindergarten registration. However, that might not reach all the children who would benefit most from the program.
“The one group that we’re still brainstorming how to reach is those who aren’t in a daycare or preschool and don’t come and register before June is out,” Bakarich said. “They show up at our doorstep in the fall and we didn’t know about them and we could have supported them.”
Similar programs are popping up throughout the country to target the co-called “achievement gap” between the most proficient and least proficient students. Research shows that resources for closing that gap are most effective early on, as the gap starts before children begin kindergarten and doesn’t grow much while kids are in school.
“Part of what we’re seeking to accomplish is getting them that support early so that they have a more significant opportunity to hit the ground running when the school year starts,” Spanjer said.
The Bright K Program is partially modeled after the Bellingham school district’s Promise K program, which started in 2013. Promise K has served as a model for several other school districts in the state, and Bellingham School officials are pleased with the program so far, said Kristi Dominguez, Early Childhood Education director for Bellingham school district.
“It’s having a lot of success,” she said. “I have story after story of parents telling us what a significant difference this made.”
Dominguez is working with Blaine school staff to help start the Bright K program.
“I’m just super excited for the families in the Blaine community,” Dominguez said. “They’re being incredibly thoughtful in what the focus of their program is.”