Cayce: Camp K success provides 'ready momentum'

Robin Cayce

We think of summer as a time of childhood bliss, filled with swimming and riding bikes and taking fun vacations. But it is also a crucial time to continue teaching and preparing our youngest learners to be classroom-ready when they enter kindergarten. Unfortunately, many children are not afforded that opportunity.

As the summer months come to a close and school is back in session, we celebrate the successes from the first year of Camp K, Hamilton County School's free kindergarten readiness program in partnership with Chattanooga 2.0, La Paz, First Things First, Read 20, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and Chattanooga State Community College, along with more than a dozen other community partners. And what a success it was!

Across 13 district schools during the month of June, more than 200 of our youngest learners, many of whom live within the Opportunity Zone, participated in this free full-day program taught by Hamilton County teachers. Camp K participants were taught the skills necessary to enter kindergarten on grade level, such as learning the alphabet, identifying shapes and colors, writing their name, and being comfortable in a structured, classroom environment.

Camp K was structured with two main goals, pulling from the kindergarten readiness domains of approaches to learning (self-regulation) and language and literacy development. In the approaches to learning domain, one of the strategies teachers helped students focus on was self-control of their feelings and behavior so that children would become less reliant on adult guidance over time. In the language and literacy domain, teachers focused on concepts about print, phonological awareness, letter and word knowledge and emergent writing. Students learned how letters, sounds and words all work together to make print and that print carries meaning. Students became aware of the sounds that make up language and increased their awareness of letters in the environment and their relationship to those sounds. In addition, students used scribbles, marks, drawings, letters, characters, and words to represent meaning in their writing.

Students were administered pre- and post-tests, which measured motor, cognitive and language skills. Total kindergarten readiness scores increased by an average of 14 points after the four-week intensive program. Incredible!

We have coined this wave of improvement as "ready momentum." While it might not be possible to bring every student "on target" in such a short period of time, we have vastly improved the chances of success for each of these 211 students entering kindergarten. In total, 87 students improved their score by 10 or more total points while 53 students were able to improve their score by 20 or more total points. The "ready momentum" is evident in the results:

» 39 students moved to "on target" for kindergarten readiness

» 37 students moved from "nearing target" to "on target"

» 24 students moved from below target to "nearing target"

» 5 students moved from "below target" to "on target"

The numbers spotlight the real effect that a quality early childhood education can have. The Camp K results represent only four weeks of work to prepare incoming kindergarten students who had not previously had exposure to these opportunities. Imagine the impact if we had more time, more early childhood learning experiences, and more access for every child.

With quality early education experiences, we can narrow the opportunity gap and ensure access to opportunities for all of our students. The proof is in the numbers! Let's continue this "ready momentum."

Robin M. Cayce, Ed.D., is the director of programs for Chattanooga 2.0.