‘Kindergarten camps’ aim to fill in social and emotional gaps for those who missed preschool

The start of the new school year was weeks away, but at Duquesne Elementary School a small group of students was already in a kindergarten classroom in late July learning how to take turns, raise their hands and line up in an orderly fashion for their walks to and from the cafeteria.

Similar lessons were happening in the Pittsburgh Public Schools, where 140 rising kindergarten students spent the month of July learning the social, emotional and academic skills they will need to succeed in kindergarten.

Duquesne’s kindergarten camp and Pittsburgh’s Kinder Bridge Summer Program are new initiatives that were created to help students entering kindergarten learn skills they may have missed by not being able to attend preschool fully, or at all, for the past two school years because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Enrollment in kindergarten and preschool dropped significantly locally and nationally during the pandemic.

kindergarten camp
Paraprofessional DiAnne Levy helps Charley Simmons to hold his pencil correctly while writing his name. Photo by Mary Niederberger.

As kindergarten enrollment started to return to normal levels last fall, the effects of those preschool absences became evident as teachers found they needed to take time away from the kindergarten curriculum to teach the skills students had previously learned in preschool.

“I know the kindergarten teachers had some difficulty really setting ground rules and setting expectations. It took them much longer this year,” said Jaclyn Keane, Pre-K transition leader and a reading specialist for the Avonworth School District.

“Sometimes the academics had to sit on the back burner for a bit until we got their needs met socially and emotionally. If they can’t regulate themselves emotionally, they are never going to get that academic side of things.”

As a result, districts across the region are offering summer programs and transition activities for those heading to kindergarten this fall. For some districts the programs are new. But for others, they mark a resumption of programs that were canceled or curtailed because of pandemic restrictions.

Want to learn more? To continue reading the rest of this story about local “kindergarten camps,” published by the Pittsburgh Institute for Nonprofit Journalism (PINJ), click here. PINJ, a media partner of Kidsburgh, provides coverage of the issues that directly affect our local communities and the people who live, work and go to school in them.