By Elissa Maudlin
HANCOCK COUNTY — Nearing the beginning of a school year, children and parents may start to think about the typical American school day – waking up early, spending most of the day in a classroom with peers, eating lunch in a cafeteria that may be busy and loud, and riding a yellow school bus.
However, as a kindergartener, this day can be new. The classroom with peers, the cafeteria and the school bus may not be familiar.
In Eastern Hancock and Greenfield-Central elementary schools, parents can sign their new kindergartener up for K101, a program that teaches incoming elementary students what being in kindergarten is like.
“They get to practice the routines of a school day and have a whole lot of fun while they do it,” Megan Thompson, director of elementary education at Greenfield-Central Community School Corporation said. “It is a soft start to kindergarten, ‘I’m gonna get just enough to ease my anxieties and fear so that I can do the real thing when it [comes].’”
Purdue Extension sets the program up for the schools and sponsors from Hancock County fund it. This year, some sponsors included the Wartman Family Foundation and Hancock Health, Mandy Gray, the Health and Human sciences educator at Purdue Extension who runs the K101 program, said. Schools also have sponsors that fund the program.
Gray said, to run the program, it costs close to $4,000. However, it is free for parents.
“That is a huge thing we always said, we do not want finances to be a barrier to this program,” Gray said, “and I’m afraid even if I charged $5, that may stop someone.”
The program lasts one week and parents can choose to send their child in the morning or afternoon. It is a condensed kindergarten day.
Each student gets a backpack with supplies and a reading book to take home. School employees, employees from Purdue Extension and volunteers run the program. Every person who helps has gone through a background check and is volunteer-registered at Purdue Extension and the school they are helping in.
Originally, the program was for kindergarteners who didn’t go to pre-school or needed help acclimating to school. However, since the inception of the program in 2012, the intent has changed.
“We really started thinking more intentionally and thought, ‘Are we reaching all kids that need that experience?’” Thompson said, referring to a meeting she had with Gray for this year’s K101 program.
Thompson said the program is now for any kindergartener who needs it.
“Maybe they need a little excitement or encouragement, you know, to kind of get excited for kindergarten,” Gray said. “But we never turn anyone away.”
Participants of the program get a lesson on bus safety. They carry their backpack, walk in hallways, go out for recess and read-aloud with the class, Thompson said. On the last day of the program, the incoming kindergarteners experience what the cafeteria is like, getting to hold their trays and open milk cartons.
“So they leave the week with that great experience, a brand new backpack, school supplies and five new books,” she said.
Gray’s favorite part of the program is working with the kids. In her role as Health and Human Sciences educator, she often works with adults, she said.
“Getting to shift to [the total] opposite of an adult … little kids who ask the best questions ever and are brutally honest with you and look up to you and, you know, are easily influenced,” she said, “It’s a nice change from working with adults all the time.”
She used to teach pre-school and said she “remember[s] why [she] loved working with little kids.”
Amanda Pyle, principal of Eastern Hancock elementary school, said the main focus of K101 is for kids to be prepared for and excited about kindergarten. In their program, there is morning greeting, read alouds, lessons from Purdue Extension and small group rotations on word work, math, fine motor and art and play. Purdue Extension also teaches lessons at Greenfield-Central during the K101 program.
“We often see kids that struggle with separation anxiety early in the week become independent kids by the end of the week,” she said via email. “These same kids also are somewhat familiar with the campus layout and can be leaders in their classroom when school starts next week.”
Thompson’s favorite moment every year is the children getting their backpacks, which are lined down the hallway when they walk in.
“I just think that it’s just a neat moment,” she said. “Because all of a sudden, they’re like, ‘Oh, this is about us.’ I think they feel grown up and valued.”
She also enjoys watching the kids’ expressions as their teacher shares a book with them, “see[ing] them start to love school [and] love to learn.”
Gray wished there was a program like this when her kids were going to kindergarten because she said she was “a nervous wreck,” and that the program helps create excitement for reading, learning, being around others and helping kids understand kindergarten is a safe place.
“ … I just know firsthand doing this program and talking with teachers and being at kindergarten round up and working in the community that this will always be a need,” she said. “This will always be a need for any school.”
For more information on the K101 program, contact Hancock County Purdue Extension at https://extension.purdue.edu/county/hancock/index.html.