Local underserved children who didn’t have the opportunity to attend preschool are preparing for their transition to kindergarten this summer at Bullis Charter School.
Charter school officials partnered with the Family Engagement Institute (FEI) at Foothill College to offer Stretch to Kindergarten – a six-week, tuition-free program designed to help children from low-income families adapt to an academic setting.
The program, in its pilot year, serves 15 students who are enrolled in kindergarten in the fall in Los Altos and Palo Alto schools.
Sang Yoo, charter school board member, said she and other volunteers from the school reached out to families in need in the Los Altos School District and beyond, visiting laundromats, grocery stores and going door-to-door in search of those who might benefit from Stretch to Kindergarten.
“It’s the families that are not on the radar that oftentimes have the highest needs,” said Betsy Nikolchev, executive director of FEI.
After they identified potential families, the engagement element of the program kicked in. Each family received a personal call and had a face-to-face meeting with program coordinators to facilitate the first steps on their child’s educational journey.
“A lot of these kids without a preschool background are at a great disadvantage even when they go to a transitional kindergarten class in this district,” said Wanny Hersey, superintendent/principal of Bullis Charter School. “And if they don’t qualify for transitional kindergarten, they could be in class with older kids – and it is really hard for these kids.”
Contributions from the Los Altos Community Foundation, the Moore Family Foundation and Bullis Charter School donors support the tuition-free program. The Bullis Booster Club provides breakfasts, snacks and lunches for the full-day program.
Stretch to Kindergarten is already established in the Mountain View Whisman and Sunnyvale school districts, but charter school officials aimed to offer a program that serves local families.
“I got into this wanting to serve this district, but overall I am just about serving kids,” Hersey said. “It doesn’t matter which school they end up in, we just want them to be successful.”
Students transition throughout the day from small-group activities to full-group discussions.
“We have a pretty intense schedule because we want to make use of every minute of the six weeks,” Nikolchev said.
Two Bullis Charter School teachers, mentors from the FEI program and high school interns run the program and teach.
The program encourages confidence, language development, conflict resolution, thinking and brainstorming development, said teacher Jacque Westermeyer.
“Part of what the whole Pre-K experience is all about is building that social-emotional component – that is a huge part of school readiness,” Westermeyer said. “I love seeing them make friends with each other, but they also understand how to function as one of a group.”
Westermeyer added that she sees her students grow on a daily basis as they learn important lessons like how to take turns, when to share with a group and how to engage with a teacher.
“The social-emotional component and the language development is the hugest thing I’ve seen develop so far in the last few weeks,” she said during students’ third week of instruction.
Students took off-site field trips to the Los Altos Library, the Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo, the Sunnyvale Baylands and the Children’s Discovery Museum in San Jose. In an effort to engage parents, program coordinators encouraged them to volunteer to pack lunches and chaperone the field trips.
“We really want to make families feel comfortable and feel like they belong (in the educational process),” said Nikolchev. “With family engagement, we have a shared responsibility and we have to embrace that strength base that families bring.”
Fifteen students graduated from the program last week and will soon enter kindergarten with their peers.
For more information on Stretch to Kindergarten, visit stretchtokindergarten.org.