Kinder camp: a boost for future kindergartners |

Kinder camp: a boost for future kindergartners

Ryan Salm/Sierra SunMaestra Amalia works with Jonaton Lopez (4) at Truckee Elementary School kinder camp, a program that prepares children to enter kindergarten in the fall.

Dozens of local children are practicing for kindergarten this month.

This summer, and for the past three, the Alpine Winters Summer Camp has provided classroom exposure for children with funding through a variety of community partnerships. The program is geared toward children who have not had the opportunity to attend preschool or who need further support in building their cognitive and behavioral skills.

“What we are giving them here is routine establishment and teaching them to follow a daily schedule,” said Amalia Niewendorp, a kindergarten teacher at Truckee Elementary School who is also teaching the summer program. “We want to put the foundation in their heads of what kindergarten is supposed to be like ” how to pay attention, stand in a line, and get on a bus.”

That foundation is vital, Niewendorp said, and can make a difference as to whether a young child will whither or thrive in kindergarten and beyond.

When children show up for kindergarten and haven’t had the benefit of preschool learning, it creates a domino effect, she said. Students who start behind academically tend to stay behind, which often leads to negative and expensive outcomes.

A study by the Children’s Institute, an independent nonprofit research and action group, found that disadvantaged children who don’t participate in quality pre-K programs have significantly lower achievement scores, are less likely to graduate from high school, are less likely to be employed as adults and are more likely to be arrested.

Those disadvantaged children are precisely the ones that the four-week Alpine Winters camp targets.

Children from wealthier families tend to have more options for preschool exposure because they are able to enroll in a variety of private programs, said Truckee State Preschool’s Bobbe Holt, who is teaching the summer program. But options for low income families, such as Truckee State Preschool and Head Start are few; classes are full and waiting lists are long.

And while Holt and Niewendorp can’t instill a year’s worth of preschool exposure into their students in the camp’s four weeks, they both agreed that even just the month they have is of great value to the tiny minds they teach.

“Last year, the kids that came into my class after the summer program ” even the ones with behavioral problems ” were better off than the ones that didn’t,” Niewendorp said.

And that’s because preschool these days isn’t just about play time and puppet shows. By the time students in California finish kindergarten ” at which point most are about 5 years old ” they need to be able to read, write three sentences, know their geometric shapes, recognize patterns and be able to add and subtract single digit.

If there isn’t a foundation to build on beginning on the first day of kindergarten, the unexposed child is likely to struggle, the teachers said.

“There are a lot of (state) standards to meet, and as a teacher, you can only do so much in a three-hour day. You do the best that you can, but you really have to juggle,” Niewendorp said.

“This summer school is great for them, and it’s great for me. I get to see [the students] who will be coming in, and they get the exposure they need.”

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