The transition from preschool to kindergarten can be tough for any child, but struggles can be elevated if they have behavioral, learning, or social problems and live below the poverty line.
The Center for Children and Families at Florida International University runs a summer academy at Thena C. Crowder Early Childhood Special Education and Diagnostic Center in Liberty City to support 45 children and their families as the kids transition from preschool to kindergarten. This marks the third year of the camp, and it has proven effective: Children who participate in the academy are eight times less likely to struggle in kindergarten, and they have more positive relationships with their teachers, said Katie Hart, the program director and an assistant professor of psychology at FIU.
“All the students here have been referred to us because they have moderate to severe social, emotional, behavioral, or learning needs,” Hart said. “Some have been removed from their preschools.”
The program takes place for seven weeks and has a high staff to student ratio. A team of highly attentive staff promotes behavioral and social-economical development, academic and literacy skills, physical activity and nutrition, communication, and having a positive attitude.
Additionally, the program strives to ensure that students are reading and writing at grade-level.
“Forty-six percent of kindergartners start below grade level in their academic development,” Hart said. “And 38 percent of children in Liberty City are at risk for a challenging transition to kindergarten.”
A large aspect of the program is parental involvement. Once a week, parents attend a weekly meeting to learn strategies about encouraging and reinforcing their child’s positive behaviors.
“We’re training parents how to be advocates for their kids,” Hart said.
Robin McKnight, the mother of Lorenzo McKnight, is thankful for the development her child has undergone prior to starting kindergarten at Edison K-8 Center.
“This program shows him how to sit down, raise his hand, walk in a proper line,” McKnight said. “Also, it teaches him discipline in a different format.”
McKnight also participates in the weekly parent workshops held at the school.
“All the parents can engage and speak about our children all together,” she said. “The progress is amazing.”
Ninty-one percent of participating families at the FIU Summer Academy live below the poverty line, which makes the children more vunerable to developing mental health problems. The program is funded by the Children’s Trust and provides the full day at camp, including lunch, free of cost.