The Uniontown Area School District reached out to its youngest students at a crucial time in their lives by giving them the footing to roar into a new school year.

A transition event held in late September for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students in the district gave children the chance to become more comfortable with teachers and peers in a “natural” learning environment.

Held under Panorama Pavilion, located among the wildlife habitats at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, the event was an animal themed reading exploration attended by approximately 70 Uniontown Area pre-K and kindergarten students and their families to promote early childhood literacy and school readiness.

“The vision was to have a night for pre-K and kindergarten kids to interact so they are more comfortable transitioning into the school district,” said Bonnie Nesser, a literacy coach in the district who coordinated the event.

Children donned animal masks and rotated through various stations participating in reading and interactive activities with district faculty and students from California University of Pennsylvania’s elementary education program.

Every child who attended took home new books, while parents received material with information on how to read to their children at home, said Nesser.

“We want the parents to know how important it is to read aloud to their kids. Having parents read to them is very vital for children to be able to read,” she said.

Transition programs have shown to help bridge the gap for young students entering their first formal year of education — a time when they may experience challenges in a new environment — to help them feel calmer, more confident and ready to learn.

Studies have found that children who experience a positive transition to kindergarten participate more actively in classroom activities and perform better on achievement tests.

The free event for Uniontown Area families was sponsored by 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.

During the evening, families were able to take advantage of the event’s location by taking self-guided tours among exotic animals such as tigers, mountain lions, hyenas, zebras and bison, among others, at Nemacolin’s wildlife habitats, which comprise a small, private zoo in the resort’s Wildlife Academy.

Nesser said the event was attended by students from each of Uniontown’s five elementary schools, as well as several of the district’s feeder pre-K and preschool centers.

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