Shawnee Mission’s Jump Start program helps ease stresses of transition to school for new kindergarteners

Laura Lavallee read a story to incoming kindergarteners and some of their parents to set up an activity as part of the Jump Start program at Tomahawk Elementary Thursday.

For little people, starting school is a big change.

So it’s helpful for students getting ready to enter kindergarten to have the chance to get familiar with their new surroundings before a building is bustling with kids.

Since 2014, Shawnee Mission has been offering a program called Jump Start to Learning that gives the families of incoming kindergarteners the opportunity get ready for the experience of being a student.

The Jump Start to Learning program includes an opportunity for parents to do an activity with their incoming kindergartens as a way to ease the stresses of transitioning to a school setting.

For three weeks in the summer, the kids attend their new schools for three hours in the morning where instructors lead them through activities to practice literacy, numeracy — and the basics of being a student. That means learning the cues of the classroom, like when to raise your hand, as well as getting familiar with day-to-day activities like lining up to go to the cafeteria.

“Kids entering kindergarten come with such a broad ranges of experiences,” said Leigh Anne Neal, the district’s assistant superintendent for early childhood education. “Some have been at pre-school for a couple years. Some have been at day care or home care. Some of those experiences are more formal classroom settings. Others are not.”

The idea, Neal said, is to help students get classroom ready without putting undue stress on them.

“We do hear from classroom teachers that the students who have gone through Jump Start tend to be the ones who do really well those first few weeks of school,” she said.

The program was piloted on a small scale at first, but has now expanded to 20 sites across the district, serving around 350 students. And this year it includes bus transportation thanks to a grant from the Early Education Funders Collaborative through the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation.

That means students will get the chance to hop on a bus for a “field trip experience” next week when all of the Jump Start participants will head to Shawnee Mission West to watch a performance by the Stone Lion Puppet Theatre.

“With that, every child will have the chance to see what it’s like to ride the bus,” Neal said.

This year’s program started Monday and runs through July 27.