Kindergarten camp a chance to get comfortable with classroom setting

  • Isho Shegow eats lunch during a morning at kindergarten camp at the Abbot-Downing School on Thursday.  LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • Isho Shegow (left) and Jeanie Lovenberg (right) eat lunch at kindergarten camp at Abbot Downing school in Concord on Thursday.  —LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • Refiona Hinxhia makes faces at her friends Leo Terragni and Sammy Chinh at kindergarten camp at Abot Downing school in Concord on Thursday.  LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • Charlotte Fithian puts on her backpack at the end of the day at kindergarten camp at Abbot Downing school on Thursday.  LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • Kindergarten teacher Stacy Macri helps student Isho Shegow at lunchtime during kindergarten camp at the Abbot-Downing School. LEAH WILLINGHAM photos / Monitor staff

  • Charlotte Fithian cleans up a table at the end of the day at kindergarten camp at Abbot Downing school.  LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • Students line up to leave the classroom at the end of a day of kindergarten camp at Abbot Downing School.  LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • Charlotte Fithian cleans up a table at the end of the day at kindergarten camp at the Abbot-Downing School.

  • LEAH WILLINGHAM—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Sunday, August 19, 2018

A group of 5-year-olds stood in a single-file line at the classroom door, waiting to be dismissed.

“Are you ready to sing?” teacher Stacy Macri asked.

The children cheered, shaking the multi-colored balloons tied to each of their tiny backpacks.

“Goodbye now, goodbye now. The clock says we’re done,” they sang. “We’ll see you in two weeks of kindergarten, goodbye everyone.”

Macri led the students to the buses waiting outside the school, and waved goodbye.

“You wouldn’t believe how far they’ve come since day one,” she said, with a grin. “Before, they didn’t even know how to line up at the door.”

Macri’s class was celebrating the last day of a three-week kindergarten camp at Abbot-Downing School. Kindergarten camp has been offered for the last five summers for kids that need an extra boost going into the school year.

It’s funded by federal title one grants and is meant to get new students accustomed to taking the bus to school, writing, reading and spending time with other kids in a classroom environment.

But this year it has special significance, because the Concord School District will be offering full-day kindergarten for the first time.

Full-day kindergarten was voted into effect in Concord this past March, when the capital city became the last city in the state to implement a full-day program. Previously, the district only offered a half-day program.

Macri said full-day kindergarten is a big step for kids – especially for those who haven’t been to any kind of day care or preschool. She said the kindergarten camps – offered at each of Concord’s three elementary schools – help calm some of those nerves.

“It just gives them some excitement, some comfort in the big school,” Macri said. “There’s 435 students here on a regular day – many of them older kids. It can be intimidating for those kids that have never done it before.”

Full-day kindergarten

The Concord School District had been debating full-day kindergarten for years when it decided to finally take the leap and implement a program.

The issue had dominated the last two rounds of school board elections, and the district nearly moved forward in 2017 before unexpected budget problems arose – most notably, a rushed conversion to natural gas after Concord Steam suddenly closed.

But the promise of new $1,100 per-pupil grants from the state in 2018 for full-day programs made the decision a little bit easier. Concord expects $330,000 in additional aid from the state because of the change.

The full-day program in Concord will cost $1.1 million, according to administrators’ projections.

Marci said she thinks the new schedule will give teachers the chance to offer children a more fun and in depth education.

Macri, who has been a kindergarten teacher in the district for 30 years, previously taught a morning and an afternoon session of kindergarten for the half-day program. Throughout the day, she’d come into contact with about 40 students.

She said that made it hard to get a lot done. By the time the kids got settled – especially in the winter, when they had snow pants, snow boots and jackets to hang up after outdoor play – they only had a few hours of time in the classroom.

Now, she’ll have under 20 students all day long.

“I won’t be rushing them,” she said. “I think there may be less wear and tear all around. It will be very, very good.”

Macri said the kindergarten curriculum is already in place. The new schedule will combine sessions for math, writing, reading out loud, relaxation and play time.

She said Abbot-Downing hired one new kindergarten teacher and that one of their second-grade teachers will be switching grades to become a kindergarten teacher. The elementary school hired a new principal for this year – Anthony Blinn – who will be taking the lead on the program.

For now, there are plies of new playhouses, dollhouses, Lego tables, blocks and kitchen sets waiting to be set up in classrooms.

“I think it’s going to be a lot of fun for kids and teachers,” Macri said.

According to data shared at the last Concord School Board meeting on Aug. 6, there are already about 280 students enrolled in kindergarten for this year, making up 17 classes throughout the district.

Confidence boost

Kindergarten camp has been offered in the district for the last few years with rising popularity, Macri said. It is offered to students identified by the district as needing extra support. A big indicator that a student might benefit for camp is whether or not they attended preschool, Macri said.

“The biggest thing for our kindergarten camp is not just academics,” she said. “It’s sitting in a circle, taking turns. It’s learning how to raise your hand to get a teacher’s attention, and how to line up at the end of the day. These are all things kids might not know if they haven’t been to preschool.”

This year, students have been working on all of those skills – in addition to doing fun arts and crafts projects like tie dye and placemat making. Kindergarten camp also received additional federal funds to provide lunch and family education for students, Macri said.

For the family education component, parents were invited to Abbot-Downing for a night of learning about how to encourage practicing reading and writing at home, as well as setting bed times and routines for kids.

Macri said more than 50 people came to meet over pizza and alphabet-shaped cookies.

The school district was also able to provide each student blue backpacks with the Abbot-Downing logo on it full of school supplies.

“We just don’t want them to start their career in school – when there’s 12 more years to go – feeling like they’re already behind or a failure,” Macri said. “Our number one thing is that all kids should love to learn. That’s just our kindergarten motto – we want them to want to come here excited to learn and play.”