Camp K: Chattanooga 2.0, partners hope to give students a jump-start on kindergarten [photos]

Chattanooga 2.0 Executive Director Jared Bigham speaks during a meeting with the Times Free Press editorial board in the newsroom on Friday, May 11, 2018 in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Chattanooga 2.0 Executive Director Jared Bigham speaks during a meeting with the Times Free Press editorial board in the newsroom on Friday, May 11, 2018 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

More than half of Hamilton County's new kindergartners aren't ready for school each year, and without enough preschool seats or high quality childcare spots, it's difficult to get them ready.

While 42 percent of all students entering kindergarten in the county are deemed ready, only 21 percent of students from communities of concentrated poverty are ready.


Barger AcademyCalvin Donaldson ElementaryClifton Hills ElementaryEast Brainerd ElementaryEast Lake ElementaryHardy ElementaryHillcrest ElementaryLakeside ElementaryOrchard Knob ElementaryNorth Hamilton ElementaryRivermont ElementarySoddy ElementaryWoodmore Elementary

But this summer, a four-week summer program is aimed at addressing that problem.

Camp K will provide a "jump-start" to 300 of the county's youngest students with full-day programs taught by Hamilton County teachers through the month of June at 13 district schools. Camp K also will include a parent component, with weekly mandatory training sessions for families of the campers.

Funded by the Smart City Venture Fund, Camp K is a collaborative effort undertaken by several community organizations, including Chattanooga 2.0, Hamilton County Schools, First Things First, La Paz and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and Chattanooga State Community College.

"Recognizing the deficiency of high-quality early childhood [education opportunities], a practical solution or way to help mitigate that is to have some type of intensive program for kids who aren't kindergarten ready," said Jared Bigham, executive director of Chattanooga 2.0.

Each Camp K classroom will have multiple adults in it: an experienced Hamilton County teacher, a brand-new teacher unfamiliar with the district and teacher candidates or interns from UTC and Chattanooga State.

"The ... greatest things that have come out of this are the level of partnership and the teacher training program and the parent piece," said Robin Cayce, director of programs at Chattanooga 2.0 and one of the leaders of the Camp K project.

Cayce and her team studied models across the country of intensive jump-start and early kindergarten programs, especially CampReady4K out of Jefferson County Schools in Kentucky, and evolved the idea through Chattanooga 2.0's Early Matters Coalition.

The team collaborated with the school principals and the other organizations to design a program that they believe will benefit kids.

What it means for students

Experts recommend children be able to recognize the alphabet, colors and shapes, write their own name and speak in complete sentences when they enter kindergarten, but 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.

These are skills children learn in child care or pre-K classrooms, but not all of Hamilton County's nearly 3,000 new kindergarten students have had access to such opportunities before they enter kindergarten.

"Camp K is a focused, foundational support to either students who didn't have access to a pre-K experience, or based on the recommendation of a preschool teacher," Bigham said.

And students who aren't ready usually stay behind.

"We are in this cycle of constant catch-up," Bigham added. "This continues across the continuum of elementary school, of third-graders who can read on level, of post-secondary and the number of students who are graduating college and career ready."

Students will receive daily instruction from as many as three adults in 15-student classrooms. They will be provided three meals a day by the YMCA and even supplies such as toothbrushes from Delta Dental. Though the program is only four weeks, the philosophy is that everything helps when getting children ready for school.

"I think the early intervention is one of those things that has to be a priority," said Stephanie Hinton, director of teaching and learning for Hamilton County Schools. "They'll be going in prepared, going into kindergarten ready."


For more info or to enroll your child in Camp K, contact Becky Covington, director of pre-K programs for the Hamilton County Department of Education, at 423-498-7131 or email

Each student will be assessed at the start of the program, using the district's Read 20 kindergarten assessment, and will be tracked and assessed again at the end of the program, which runs through June 29.

What it means for parents

In addition to the children's curriculum, parents also will have sessions of their own.

Each week, parents will attend a session on topics such as the Chattanooga basics, presented by the Early Matters Team, which outlines ways parents can get their infants and children ready for school; adverse child experiences and the trauma's effect on children; language and literacy development; support available to families; and information from the school principal.

"We know parent involvement is vital to having kids who are ready," said Julie Baumgardner, president and CEO of First Things First. "We need parents to know about healthy environments for learning and give them supports and ways to engage with their child."

Most of the nearly 20 sessions will be taught by volunteers or representatives from the various school partners. La Paz also will provide support for parents who are not native English speakers.

"We are assisting to make sure all parents are able to get the information that is being shared, said Stacey Johnson, executive director of La Paz. "They are going to learn things they should know, but also they are really learning how the school systems here in the United States work."

La Paz will also be supporting five of the Camp K school sites: Calvin Donaldson, Clifton Hills, East Brainerd, East Lake and Orchard Knob elementary schools.

"The students are the core piece of this work, but all of these pieces - the parents, the teachers - help the students to be successful," Johnson said.

What it means for teachers

Not only will incoming kindergarten students be getting a preview of what to expect come fall, but so will some of the district's newest teachers.

Each of the 20 classroom teachers will be matched with a new-to-the-district teacher, and some of UTC and Chattanooga State's education students taking classes that require practicums or field experience over the summer also will spend time in the classrooms.


› Hamilton County Department of Education› YMCA of Metropolitan Chattanooga› Delta Dental› Tech Goes Home› Early Matters Chattanooga› First Things First› Creative Discovery Museum› Chattanooga Public Library› Read 20› University of Tennessee at Chattanooga› Chattanooga State Community College› LaPaz› Little Caesars› Purpose Point› United Way of Greater Chattanooga

"This is a great opportunity for our students who attend the infant and toddler classes," said Christine Couch Conn, director of education programs at Chattanooga State. "There is now an opportunity to execute what they are learning and learn from experienced teachers."

Previously, because of limited summer opportunities, student teachers often spent time in private preschools, home settings or worked with Signal Centers and other organizations that might offer experiences from which they could learn.

Because of the partnership, both UTC and Chattanooga State also arranged course scheduling - even creating a course in the case of Chattanooga State - to ensure student teachers could benefit from the program, as well.

"This is an opportunity for our students to have much more opportunities to engage with students and with high-quality, mentor teachers," said Kim Wingate, early childhood professor at UTC and wife of school board member Joe Wingate. "It supports our teacher candidates; it supports students and the opportunity for the candidates to engage with different student populations."

The district, which is in the process of creating a new teacher induction program for all of its first-year teachers, also selected brand new teachers to work alongside experienced teachers in Camp K classrooms.

These teachers will have a leg up on running a classroom, interacting with parents and differentiating learning before they set foot in their own classrooms for the first time in August, Wingate said.

What's next

The Smart City Venture Fund approved $375,000 to fund a two-year Camp K pilot program, serving 300 students each year.

"If we find that this is successful, we have the ability to scale it up pretty quickly next year," Bigham said, adding that he is "more excited about this than anything we've done yet with Chattanooga 2.0."

Hamilton County Schools also invested in the initiative, providing funding but also use of its facilities and some of the staff. Six of the schools will already be open for students this summer as host sites for Read to Be Ready summer programs.

The partners all believe they will see results, and hope that down the road they can bring the initiative to the city and the county, which have both been exploring ways to enhance early childhood opportunities in our area.

"This is workforce development," Wingate said. "Early childhood [education] is fundamental to the city of Chattanooga and Hamilton County and it is amazing to see the collaboration of different components to come together to benefit students."

Contact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.

Upcoming Events