EVERETT — When Woodside Elementary School’s 97 kindergarten students lined up to walk in single file to a new classroom last week, their school was otherwise empty.
This was their chance to practice the regular school routine without the distraction of other “big kids,” said Anne Arnold, director of preschool through fifth grade instruction for the Everett Public Schools. The students came to school three weeks early for Everett Ready, a district-wide kindergarten preparedness program that helps ease the transition to school.
“By the time they come to full days in September, they have enough experiences that they can come to the classroom and successfully engage in learning,” Arnold said. “And that’s the big difference. That means they come to school on day one, and they are ready.”
The vast majority of incoming kindergarten students spent a week enrolled in Everett Ready, attending half-day classes where they listened to stories, walked to and from recess, and practiced arts and crafts. Now those students — more than 1,000 of them — know what to expect when classes officially start on Sept. 12.
Instead of crying for their parents on the first day, the Everett Ready kids know they’ll see mom and dad again at the end of the day, Arnold said. Instead of accidentally falling asleep during story time, they’re more likely to stay engaged and follow along.
Usually, the songs and stories they hear during Everett Ready are part of the curriculum when they become full-fledged students, so they know exactly what to expect at school, Arnold said.
“Kids love to recognize things, and they love to feel confident and capable,” she said. “You’ll hear them say what’s going to happen next when the teacher is saying the story.”
The program covers all parts of kindergarten. Students ride the bus, play at recess, wait for their parents at a designated pick up zone and rotate between learning activities. Arnold said it’s “just really basic things” that make a big difference.
“It’s just a really supportive way to start kids on a really big part of their lives,” she said. “We don’t see kids crying on the first day of kindergarten in Everett like we used to.”
Everett schools has run the program in some form since 2016, but it was limited to just a few schools until 2020-21. That year, the district tried to open Everett Ready to all incoming kindergarten students, but it was difficult because of the pandemic, Arnold said.
“This is the first year we were really able to implement this model where all students are welcome, all schools have a program and we have transportation provided,” Arnold said.
She added that 78% of the 1,415 incoming kindergarten students enrolled in the program. For those students who didn’t attend, their peers role model the proper behaviors — and sometimes even answer questions for them, Arnold said.
Other school districts in Snohomish County support similar programs, including Jump Start in Edmonds.
Mallory Gruben is a Report for America corps member who writes about education for The Daily Herald.
Mallory Gruben: 425-339-3035; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @MalloryGruben.
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