Jennifer Przepiora surveyed her crayons as she prepared to color a picture of a school bus and complete a small maze of a child headed to a bus stop. Her class of incoming kindergartners had just completed a lesson on bus safety, and the teachers wanted to cement the message with a fun activity and a story (I'm Your Bus). "Kindergarten camp is fun," said Jennifer, 5, who begins classes at Seven Oaks Elementary School on Aug. 16. "It's fun all the time."
She and 45 others attended a five-day kindergarten camp program this week designed to get them accustomed to the school's rules and routines. Seven Oaks began this program four years ago, modeling it after one at Sand Pine Elementary. Since that time, several other schools across Pasco County have joined in.
During the week, which cost Seven Oaks parents $100, children reviewed the alphabet, listened to stories, toured the campus and met the principal.
"The other day we learned about Jack and Jill," 5-year-old Ethan Ruebusch said as he worked on his bus maze. "Jack and Jill fell down off a hill. Something came tumbling after."
Daniel Probst, also 5, enjoyed making new friends — one named Darren and the other one whose name he couldn't recall — and also had fun doing all the work.
"But my legs just get worn out every time I walk into the classroom, because I have to sit criss-cross applesauce," Daniel said.
Teacher Ginny Dominick expressed amazement at how well-adjusted the children were despite coming to the school for the first time. Only a few broke down into the "I want my mommy" jags, and more than most quickly adapted to the procedures like raising your hand to get permission for talking, or going to the bathroom.
Many of the kids said they had attended some type of preschool, so they were accustomed to the setup already.
"It's going great," said Dominick, who will teach second grade instead of kindergarten this year because of class-size demands. "We have a really relaxed group. They're really interested in what we are doing. … It's exciting that we're getting off on the right foot quickly."
The program gave new kindergarten teachers a crash course in the school rules, too.
"It helps me learn the routines and the procedures," said teacher Lori Hoeffner, who interned at nearby Double Branch Elementary last year. "I taught first grade, so this really brings me back to the basics."
Principal B.J. Smith said she always can see the difference between the children who attended the kindergarten camp, because they are more at ease on the hectic first day of classes. She aims to give novice k-camp parents advice, so they'll be more comfortable, too.
She tells them about parking lot safety and a variety of other key issues. But if the veteran principal has one overriding message for the moms and dads, it's this: "Let your kid go."
"Bring them to school. If you want to walk them to the door, let them go at the door," she said. "It's very hard for parents. But we are practicing independence."
Five-year-old Jennifer, for one, said she's ready.
"I want to learn about kindergarten," she said. "We don't know anything about kindergarten. We need to learn about countries and all that stuff."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.