Young students get an early lead on learning

Vancouver's Jump Start Kindergarten gives low-income kids a boost

By Susan Parrish, Columbian education reporter

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photoRenee Sutter reads to her kindergarten class during snack time at Harney Elementary School on Thursday. The students are participating in Jump Start, a program for those who need extra support before school officially begins.

(/The Columbian)

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Colton Jensen, 5, sips from his Cars the Movie thermos while munching on a bagel during snack time in his Jump Start Kindergarten class at Harney Elementary.

Colton spells his first and last name and announces his birthday.

"My mom told me to make friends, too," Colton said. He turns and introduces his classmates flanking him: Aqeel and Annalicia, both also 5.

About Jump Start Kindergarten

• District: Vancouver Public Schools.

• Funding: Title I federal money geared for low-income students plus some district money, supplemented with $100,000 grant from the Foundation for Vancouver Public Schools.

• Extended session: Aug. 5-27 at Anderson, Fruit Valley, Harney, Hazel Dell, King, Lincoln, Marshall, Ogden, Roosevelt and Washington elementary schools.

• Later session: Aug. 14-27 at Hough, Minnehaha, Truman and Walnut Grove elementary schools.

• Students participating: 638 in 2012, 510 in 2011.

• Teachers: 38 teachers at the 14 schools, plus one paraprofessional at each school and six to seven instructional coaches in the district.

Colton said he already knows his ABCs and counting, but has been learning the ropes of kindergarten, including "criss-cross applesauce" (sitting quietly with legs crossed) and "anchor hands" (walking with hands behind one's back, as opposed to tugging on another student).

When kindergartners begin school, some are more ready than others. Some have attended preschool. Some can write their first and last names. Some can recite and write the alphabet. But others are not up to speed.

Jump Start Kindergarten gives incoming kindergartners extra help to be ready to start school.

Did you know?

• Kids who participated in Jump Start Kindergarten are nearly twice as likely to be at the early literacy benchmark at the beginning of the school year compared with those who didn’t participate.

• The program’s English Language Learners are more than three times as likely to be at the early literacy benchmark compared to ELL kindergartners who didn’t participate in the program (36 percent versus 11 percent).

• Children from low-income backgrounds enter kindergarten with a listening vocabulary of 3,000 words compared to 20,000 words for children from middle-income households.

"We're trying to close that gap and provide students an opportunity to come to school early," says Effie Triol, who coordinates the Vancouver district's program. "We've added 17 days to the 180-day school year, giving those kids almost an extra month of school."

This year, the tuition-free, 2.5-hour program has been expanded to 14 schools, all of which receive Title I funding. The funding to expand the program was made possible by a $100,000 grant from the Foundation for Vancouver Public Schools.

The program introduces developmental activities to help students' transition to kindergarten. It provides literacy-based, hands-on learning activities and gives students the opportunity to learn basic daily school routines and become familiar with their new school surroundings. The program has existed in some form since 2005.

In the four Jump Start Kindergarten classes at Harney Elementary, 56 students are participating. Last summer, a total of 638 students participated districtwide.

"We saw the benefits in student achievement and attendance last year," Triol said. "We worked hard to provide that opportunity to more students, so we added the extended program to 10 schools this year."

Renee Sutter, a Jump Start Kindergarten teacher at Harney, was teaching students the letter "w" on Thursday morning through a variety of activities.

Although the academic part is important, Sutter said, "One of the biggest things is just getting them ready for school. Learning the routine."

"It can be so overwhelming the first day of school to come to a new building where there's lots of kids," Triol said.

She said it helps kindergartners get acclimated to the routine without the older kids being around.

"Last year, teachers told me how much easier it was, with less crying, and kids ready to learn," Triol said. "These kids are ready to start on the first day of school."

Susan Parrish: 360-735-4515; http://twitter.com/Col_Schools;susan.parrish@columbian.com