(Summer) school’s out for summer

FAIRMONT – For weeks now, Fairmont Elementary has been a bustle of activity. Students going from room to room, kids playing on the playground, the clatter of silverware in the cafeteria.

Targeted services summer school and Kinder Prep, a pre-school program for incoming kindergarteners, wrapped up their summer programming Thursday.

Since early July, 200 students with a need for additional assistance in either reading or math have come to school for half days.

Each of the 13 classes chose a country to focus on, and spent the weeks researching it. Thursday, each class presented their findings, along with a sample of food representing that country, to the other students in a multi-cultural international fair.

A first-grade class learned about Africa, finding and coloring drawings of animals that have names starting with each letter of the alphabet and making paper hats in many colors. Older students used computers to research their country and create presentations for their fellow students.

The Netherlands was represented by a game of double Dutch, a game unfamiliar to a group of girls attempting to enter the swinging ropes without getting tangled. A teacher jumped into the ropes to show them, but quickly got tangled herself.

Those watching ate apple slices, the food chosen to represent the country.

The class representing Japan served rice and Japanese candies. Baguettes represented France. Table after table had students clustered around them as they learned about new places.

Soon to be first-graders found out about Africa, coloring pictures of animals from the continent starting with every letter of the alphabet.

Math and reading were worked on each day in conjunction with the country projects, according to assistant principal Michelle Rosen.

A student boasted that his reading has improved so much while participating in summer school that his mom noticed. Other children seemed to hardly realize they were in school, looking with wide eyes at the information presented about foreign countries.

On the other side of the school, the class of 2026 were wrapping up their last day of Kinder Prep, a program in which the students came to school for half the day Monday through Thursday, to learn the basics of school – like remaining seated when asked to sit, walking quietly in a line down the hallway, and how to remain orderly in the lunchroom.

It is the second year for the program, called Kindercamp last year, and it served more students this year than last.

Parents of the 108 participants were invited on the last day to meet administrators and get important information about starting off their child’s educational career on the right foot.

“The first year of school is a time of change,” Principal Jim Davison told parents. “It is most hard for you. It is a difficult transition you make. Your kids will actually adjust pretty fast.”

Students involved in Kinder Prep represented families enrolled not only at Fairmont’s public school, but also parochial schools in the area.

Teachers from St. Paul’s Lutheran and St. John Vianney made up some of the teaching staff for the program, and information about school starts and orientation days were given about each school.

“This is a community effort,” Rosen said. “Even though it is at a public school, it is about us working together.”

Superintendent Joe Brown agreed, adding that Fairmont is the only district he is aware of that invites the parochial schools to participate in programs like Kinder Prep.

Brown estimated that 80 percent of students who enroll in kindergarten participate in Kinder Prep, and said the eight days of instruction during the summer makes a great deal of difference at the beginning of the year.

“The students who came to Kindercamp did do better when they started school (than those who did not),” Brown said, noting typical first-week chaos in the cafeteria was greatly reduced. “The kids have had 16 meals in the cafeteria already.”

Teaching the students to be orderly is important for the fast pace of school.

Kindergarten teacher Jennifer Diegnau talked to parents about what is expected of their children upon entering their first year of school.

“Shoe tying, learning their address and phone number, their birthday,” she said, “I don’t have time to teach them these things. They are going to be needing to work on these things at home.”

Diegnau told parents it is best if they can read their name, know the order of the letters in the alphabet song, and understand the concept of rhyming before they come to kindergarten. Parents were also informed that they are expected to do their students homework with them, as a way to keep abreast of the progress being made in the classroom.

“It is so important (for parents to be involved),” Davison said. “You all play the guiding force for your kids. It makes all the difference.”

Davison noted the difference in today’s kindergarten curriculum to what the students’ parents might have experienced.

“What we teach now,” he said, “the rigor level is so different from what their parents learned. They learn math, the learn to read, they learn to work in a system, which is important.”