Shawnee Mission teachers give rising kindergarteners a ‘Jump Start’ before school year begins

Christine Peterson, a Johnsson County Library employee, volunteers to read to rising kindergarteners as part of the Shawnee Mission School District’s Jump Start to Learning summer program.

Some children start kindergarten without ever having picked up a pencil or crayon, or without any opportunity to learn to read.

A summer program in the Shawnee Mission School District works to counter that by preparing rising kindergarteners for their first days in school. Jump Start to Learning provides children in Shawnee Mission elementary schools with the opportunity to practice literacy, numeracy and the skills of being a student — before the school year begins.

Teachers Paulinea Salas, Andrea Horner and Megan Novellano led the Jump Start program activities at Nieman Elementary this year. Salas said the program allows her and her fellow teachers to address issues before her kindergarteners start school.

“About half of my kiddos have not attended any type of preschool, so when they start on the first day of school, they already know my expectations,” Salas said of her Jump Start participants. “I let the class know ‘these are my Jump Start kids; if you need help and you can’t ask me, you can ask them.’”

Kindergarteners can participate at schools with 40 percent of the student population having free or reduced lunch. As such, the program is supported by Title I funding, a grant from the Hall Family Foundation, and funding from the Shawnee Mission Education Foundation.

“In Johnson County, I think it gets overlooked that there are still kids out there that haven’t experienced things that other kids might have,” Horner said. She added that introducing kindergartners to the school building before older students arrive at school also makes the new environment less intimidating for them.

The summer program is filled with activities that introduce these soon-to-be students to art, math and reading subjects, lining up for classes, raising your hand, holding a pencil and other student skills.

“Everybody calls us the cat herders; you should see us on the first day trying to get 20 kids down the hall into some kind of line,” Salas said. “You can tell who’s been at Jump Start. They already know how to walk in the hall, how to hold themselves.”

The Johnson County Library also collaborates with the school district for the program. For example, Christine Peterson, Latino services outreach librarian for the Johnson County Library, spent Tuesday morning reading to children who will be kindergarteners at Nieman Elementary.

Peterson said the library focuses on assisting at schools with low reading scores; the Jump Start program could encourage these rising kindergarteners at an early stage and connect them to the library.

Peterson said her hope is “to continually connect children with literature,” especially in opportunities that improve their language and comprehension skills.