Early literacy program helps Portland kids get ready for school

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PORTLAND — Norah Libby, 5, is ready for school this fall, thanks to a summer early literacy program offered by the Portland Public Schools.

The goal of the Kindergarten Jump Start program is to introduce kids to the alphabet and books, boost their socialization skills, and help them adjust to the schedule of a typical school day.

Libby will be a kindergartner at Ocean Avenue Elementary when school starts on Sept. 5.

This is the first summer the program has been offered at Ocean Avenue. In prior years it’s been rolled out successfully at other elementary schools around the city, including Reiche, Presumpscot and Riverton.

Billie Libby, Norah’s mother, said she and her husband signed their daughter up for the program because “we were concerned that Norah was only able to identify a handful of letters and did not seem interested in learning to read or write.”

Libby said participating in Kindergarten Jump Start “most definitely” boosted her daughter’s readiness to attend school.

“The program increased her confidence level all around,” she said. “Not just academically, but socially, as well. (Norah) is heading into kindergarten comfortable with the school environment (and) she has new friends and the motivation to be an engaged learner.”

Libby said the program also helped her daughter with literacy.

While Norah “has always been interested in books and being read to, until the program she had no interest in learning the alphabet or writing,” Libby said.

“Now it’s all she talks about. She can correctly identify most letters of the alphabet and is able to write most of them independently. I even walked by our screen porch the other day and caught her teaching our 4-year-old how to sight read.”

What Norah most enjoyed about taking part in jump start, Libby said, is “meeting new friends and nice teachers, learning about the letter of the day and working on the bag of extension activities that came home with her.”

Other exciting events for the 5-year-old included drinking chocolate milk at lunch and playing tag on the playground, Libby said.

“Throughout the five-week program (Norah) consistently mentioned how fun and exciting each day at camp was for her,” she added.

That’s good news for Beverly Stevens, the principal at Ocean Avenue Elementary.

She said that all 12 students who took part in Kindergarten Jump Start this summer “gained confidence in social and academic tasks.”

“Their skills improved dramatically,” over the summer, Stevens said, and “they’ll now come to school with much more confidence.”

Stevens said the program is specifically designed for kids with no preschool experience, with the idea of introducing students to letters, sounds, writing, and school routines.

“An overarching goal,” she said, “was for students to understand that learning is fun.”

Typical activities included a letter of the day, practicing writing with a variety of different mediums – from the typical No. 2 pencil to shaving cream – singing songs, listening to stories and participating in activities designed to boost both fine and gross motor skills.

Whether Kindergarten Jump Start made the participants ready for school, Stevens said, “We can tell you in the fall.”

However, if the experience of other elementary schools in the city is anything to go by, then the jump start program will make a significant difference for incoming students.

Lori Bobinsky, the lead teacher and literacy coach at Reiche Elementary, said this is the second summer her school has offered Kindergarten Jump Start.

Fifteen students were served at Reiche, and Bobinsky said the participants learned “how to do school. They learn how to line up, raise their hand to answer a question, stay focused on one task (and) engage.”

Along with helping youngsters to get school-ready, Bobinsky praised the jump start program as a way “for us to also engage with the families.”

Jennifer Seed, the pre-kindergarten teacher at Riverton Elementary, said this is the third year the school has offered jump start; 16 students participated this summer.

“Students learn their alphabet and (we) introduce them to quality literature with as many stories as possible in 25 days,”Seed said.

“These children are ready to begin reading in kindergarten because they have gained so much knowledge over the summer,” she said.

“They are often the leaders in their classrooms because they have gained confidence from the (jump start) program. They are (also) familiar with the buses, the school, the teachers and a classroom routine. The day was (always) packed full and the students were constantly learning.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KirishCollins.

Portland’s Ocean Avenue Elementary School.

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