Kindergarten Boot Camp

Sean C. Morgan

Oak Heights kindergarteners and their teachers got a jump on the new school year in Kindergarten Boot Camp.

The program was held over the past two weeks, with this week off for in-service.

“It got proposed to us at the district level,” said Principal Josh Dargis. The district had some Title I funding available to pay for it. “When kindergarteners come into the school for the first time, it’s kind of overwhelming.”

They find a much busier environment, with 300 other children running around, Dargis said. Kindergarten Boot Camp gives them a softer start. Many of the kindergarten students have not been in a pre-school program. By attending school early, they can more easily get to know where the bathrooms, cafeteria and classrooms are located. They get to know and trust their teachers.

The program is a lot like the orientation days held for incoming junior high school students and freshmen at the high school.

“We just did two weeks of half days to really kind of get the kids ready for school,” said teacher Stephanie Deneen-Rodrigues. They get an introduction to the routine of school without the big kids around.

It’s also given the school’s two kindergarten teachers, Deneen-Rodrigus and Liz Konstantin, a chance to assess their students, Dargis said. It can be difficult to properly assess them in an hour-long assessment. With two weeks to get to know the students, they can work together to get to know the children and balance their classes.

The teachers break the students into groups and try to match them up as much as possible, balancing them so everyone is getting the same start, Deneen-Rodrigues said.

Oak Heights officials anticipated 10 to 15 kindergarteners would show up for Kindergarten Boot Camp, Dargis said, but they ended up with about 30.

The school will have more kindergarten students than that, he said, because some families had scheduling conflicts.

All of the credit for developing the program goes to Deneen-Rodrigus and Konstantin, Dargis said. “They put together a good program. It was successful – it will make life easier later.”

The teachers are able to identify early students who need extra help, Deneen-Rodrigues said. The teachers get a preview they can use to pinpoint the children’s specific needs.

“In kindergarten we’re really focused on getting them to the point they’re reading by the end of the year,” Deneen-Rodrigues said. Their goal is to read simple decodable text by the end of the year “so by the third grade, they’re not decoding but reading to learn.”

Once learned, reading skills become automatic, a skill “you’re not going to forget,” Deneen-Rodrigues said. And that’s key to learning in other areas.