Certain students entering kindergarten at two Albert Gallatin elementary schools were able to familiarize themselves to the workings of primary school a little earlier than usual.

A three-day Kinder Camp held at Friendship Hill and Masontown elementary schools in June gave more than 30 pre-K students a primer in kindergarten classroom learning and in attending a large, multi-classroom building.

The camp introduced classroom routine to prepare students for their transition to kindergarten. For five hours each day, students learned in a classroom setting, became acclimated with the hallways and spaces of the buildings and met with their respective principals and support staff.

The camp was made possible by a grant from United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania, which coordinates with school districts throughout the region to provide kindergarten transition support to help kids and families bridge the gap between pre-K and kindergarten.

Lara Bezjak, federal programs coordinator and elementary education supervisor for the Albert Gallatin Area School District, called the school readiness camp an “intense crash course in knowing the building.”

“The purpose of the grant is to increase collaboration between the district and local early education centers while also enhancing engagement opportunities for families transitioning children into district kindergarten classrooms in the fall,” said Bezjak.

“The overall primary goal, however, is to develop school readiness skills in area pre-kindergarten children and promote on-time kindergarten registration,” she said.

Parents of attending children were provided transition resources to help families at home ease through the school transition process.

Jesse Sprajcar, community impact director with United Way, said the organization’s objective in supporting programs like this kinder camp is to engage children before they start school in the fall.

“Our goal is to get as many children ready for kindergarten as possible,” said Sprajcar. “It’s critical walking into elementary school for the first time with 300 students — that confidence level walking in for the first time can be the foundation for the next 13 years of their life.”

Participating building principals, Friendship Hill’s Amy Przybylinski and Masontown’s Lisa Haught, agree that transitioning into school is a major life event for students and their families.

“As instructional leaders, principals have an opportunity to make connections between the home and school environment that lay the foundation for future partnerships to grow. The kinder camp program decreases student anxiety, provides an opening for parents to ask questions and offers materials to reference throughout the summer in preparing for kindergarten,” Przybylinski and Haught said in joint statement.

Children were invited to attend the camp during district kindergarten registration held this spring.

If funding remains available, the district is hoping to extend the early learning initiative to all five of its elementary schools in the future following a successful pilot at Friendship Hill and Masontown, said Bezjak.

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