LAND O'LAKES — It was about two weeks before the start of school, and Connerton Elementary kindergarten teacher Tricia Sherburne was already at it.
"Who's sitting crisscross applesauce?" she asked the passel of youngsters gathered on a colorful carpet in a room filled with numbers and letters of the alphabet and books such as My School's a Zoo and The Night Before Kindergarten and Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
Hands shot up all around. The new rules were sinking in. Not bad for the second day of kindergarten camp.
School starts Monday for Pasco County students, but some have already gotten a primer for what's in store.
Over summer break, students of all ages have been preparing, attending high school academic boot camps, fifth-grade leadership retreats and kindergarten half-day camps. There are Infinity camps for secondary students opting for a blended learning tract and mainstays such as Junior ROTC and band camps.
It's all about getting a head start, setting goals and being comfortable in new surroundings
"It really pumps me up for the new year, hearing their voices and giggles, " said Mari Garcia, a 19-year teacher and the professional learning community facilitator at Connerton Elementary. "The first day (of kindergarten camp), they are typically anxious."
After getting a taste, most warm up — like Giovani Ramirez, who kept to himself on his first day of camp.
"I never talked yesterday because I was shy. But now I'm not. I want to make my mom and dad proud of me," Giovani said as he glued construction paper circles bearing letters that spelled out his name while creating the body of his very hungry caterpillar.
Teachers get insight about the personalities and preparedness of their students, who go through a brief skills assessment and learn the ins and outs of walking in line to the cafeteria or playground, raising their hand before calling out and asking for help if they need it.
It serves as a nerve settler for students and parents, said Carolina Lam, whose daughter, Isabella Vizcaino, attended the camp at Connerton.
"I think it's important for them to know in advance when they are going to experience a change in their life," Lam said.
Kindergarteners can also look to seasoned students, some of whom spent time at daylong leadership retreats at Double Branch, Seven Oaks, Connerton, Seven Springs, Denham Oaks and Oakstead elementary schools.
The curriculum, developed by administrators from those schools, included team-building activities and discussions meant to foster role models while preparing fifth-graders for their last year of elementary school, said assistant principal C.J. Huffman.
At the top of the fun list for Makayla Myers: a team activity using a rubber band and six plastic cups to make a pyramid without talking or touching the cup with your hands.
Makayla, noting the added responsibility of being an older student, said, "You get to inspire the little kids to do whatever they want to — but in a good way."
Deanna Finch, 10, said she learned something about herself through introspective worksheets and discussions.
"I'm not a taskmaster. I kind of move from one thing to another thing," Deanna said, noting her primary goal this year. "I want to finish all the Sunshine State readers books by at least the second quarter because they are the higher reading skills books. I want to go above and beyond."
Encouraging kids to go beyond was a focus of the Infinity camp at Paul R. Smith Middle School in Holiday.
For two days, the cafeteria was turned into a campsite, complete with tents, construction-paper totem poles and a campfire for about 75 students enrolled in the program, which blends online e-school and classroom instruction.
"It gives you a chance to know each other, and you get an idea about what you are going to be doing project-wise," said eighth grader and camp counselor Shelton Ried, 13, noting that he spent part of his summer wrapping up an online eighth-grade science course.
Friendships were forged through ice breakers and arts and crafts activities, said social studies teacher Carolyn Erickson. Students worked on their planners and set goals for the coming year. Sixth-graders learned rules and expectations and got a first-day-of-school walk-through that took them from the bus drop-off area to the Infinity classroom, where they learned how to log on so they could hit the ground running on Monday.
"We want them to develop a love for learning and school," Erickson said. "We want to create a family atmosphere — a bond between them — because throughout the year they will be working together on projects, and the root of all that starts at camp."
Contact Michele Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (727) 869-6251. Follow @MicheleMiller52