The latest attempt to ensure Hamilton County's youngest residents are ready for kindergarten has kicked off.
At Woodmore Elementary on Monday, parents, some with older siblings in tow, dropped off shy 4-year-olds for their very first day in the classroom at Camp K.
Calvin Donaldson Elementary
Clifton Hills Elementary
East Brainerd Elementary
East Lake Elementary
Orchard Knob Elementary
North Hamilton Elementary
Camp K, a four-week summer program put together through a partnership among Chattanooga 2.0, Hamilton County Schools and other community partners, is taking place at 13 county schools during June. The free program is aimed at giving a leg up to some of the nearly 60 percent of Hamilton County children who are not deemed ready for kindergarten.
"Anytime there is a learning process or opportunity, I want him to be in it," said Tiffany Davis as to why she enrolled her oldest child, Dominique, in the program. "I read to him every day, and I want him to experience the social aspect of school."
Dominique and some of his classmates, including Jonathan Lawrence Jr., who proudly spelled his first name all by himself, have attended preschool prior to kindergarten, but not all of Hamilton County's nearly 3,000 new kindergarten students have had access to such opportunities.
Experts recommend children be able to recognize the alphabet, colors and shapes, write their own names and speak in complete sentences when they enter kindergarten. They also should be comfortable in a structured environment, listening to adults outside their families and be confident enough to do tasks such as putting on their shoes or going to the bathroom alone.
"We look forward to seeing these little people move on to kindergarten and be successful," said Juanita Naylor, one of the two teachers of the 15-student Camp K class at Woodmore. Naylor and master teacher Ginger Varner plan on focusing on a new letter each day, incorporating creative activities and guided reading into the camp's curriculum.
Spending the day with preschoolers demands flexibility and a sense of imagination, though, too. Some students were taken aback when the classroom's toilet made rumbling noises Monday, but they also enjoyed creating "binoculars" with their hands as they scanned the room for examples of the letter "L."
A significant component of the program was occurring simultaneously as students got acclimated to the classroom — parents attended a mandatory parent session in the school library, learning about Chattanooga Basics, a initiative of Chattanooga 2.0's Early Matters coalition to promote kindergarten readiness, and other resources available to them.
"We are really excited about this new initiative here in Hamilton County," said Robin Cayce, director of programs for Chattanooga 2.0. "And we are excited that parents are here on this journey with us."
Parents are required to attend a session each week that will focus on ways parents can get their infants and children ready for school, adverse child experiences and trauma's effect on children, language and literacy development, support available to families, and information from the school principal.
"We want parents to really feel welcome and know that their kids are going to have a positive experience," said Katherlyn Geter, a volunteer member of the Early Matters coalition team and a candidate for the District 5 county commission seat.