Some came skipping. Some even ran. Some were more reluctant, a little scared or shy. This was all brand new. It was their first time at school. It was Kinder Camp.
They came with their puppy backpacks and Velcro shoes. They sat in a circle, ate a snack and got busy playing with Play-Doh, coloring and interacting with one another. They learned where to hang their coats and how to raise their hands to ask for help. They were learning how to be kindergarteners.
As we welcomed the Class of 2034 to Spring Lake Park Schools, we know the most important thing they will learn in our schools is who they are as a learner, how they learn and where they want to go as they move through their career at Spring Lake Park Schools. For this class of students, that learning started even before school began this year.
At Kinder Camp, our newest students had a chance to “practice” coming to school before the first day. We started to get to know them and who they are as learners, and they got to engage in experiences designed to help them get comfortable with school. The goal was to set them up for K-12 success starting day one.
In August, 277 incoming kindergarten students attended the free, three-day Kinder Camp event. Each kindergartener practiced going to their elementary school and began learning the ropes of kindergarten.
“The goal behind Kinder Camp was to get these students familiar with the building, the spaces they’ll be in, the faces they’ll see with staff and their classmates and some of the general expectations and routines they’ll have in order to build their confidence as they head into kindergarten,” says Kimber McKenzie, Park Terrace Elementary kindergarten teacher.
The experience was designed to give students something to build on during their first days of school. Each day, students got to tour the building, snack in the cafeteria, make connections with one another and staff members, engage in fun activities, play at recess and even practice riding the bus.
“During the first morning of Kinder Camp, we saw a lot of shy and quiet students,” says Sharina Meinholz, Woodcrest Spanish Immersion kindergarten teacher. “And then almost right away after starting, we saw them light up and start to make friends and get used to being in the school. By day two and three, they remembered the routines, seeing the same faces and spaces and were already a lot more comfortable.”
Northpoint Elementary School kindergarten teacher Melissa Barry said the experience wasn’t so much focused on the curriculum. It was more about students familiarizing themselves with the building and each other, and staff getting to know each student on a personal level.
“This is a big transition for our students, so we wanted to give them a chance to learn the basics before jumping right into the all-encompassing aspects of kindergarten,” says Melissa. “The experience also benefits us as teachers, because we get to know them as individuals and start to understand their likes and dislikes which helps greatly during the first days and weeks of kindergarten.”
Families also got the benefit of Kinder Camp. Parents and guardians were able to drop off and pick up their student, see parts of the building and attend a presentation by the school principal to learn more about the kindergarten experience at SLP.
“We wanted to calm some of the worries or wonderings for not only our students but also for our families,” says Kimber. “By preparing the students, we were also preparing the families which makes for an easier transition on the first day of school.”
Getting to know each student
At Spring Lake Park Schools, each learner has their very own learner profile created and updated by each student and their teachers. The profile includes information about each student’s strengths, interests and needs as a learner – as well as insight into how they learn. It is a tool to help get to know each student deeply to tailor learning experiences to them.
While learner profiles are created as early as preschool, for those who attend preschool in the district, Kinder Camp provided an opportunity to add to – or create – a learner profile for each incoming kindergartener.
“We want any adult who meets these students on the first day of school to already know some background about them,” says Lindsay Johnson, Innovative and Personalized Learning Coordinator. “Through the profile, school staff might know what they’re interested in, what they aspire to, how they like to learn or even something that just doesn’t work very well for them. We hope by already starting to know them as individuals they feel welcomed and valued as they walk through the door.”
Melissa used her three days of Kinder Camp to start or build out profiles to get to know the students and also ensure each profile provided a good starting block for the teachers who come next.
“The Learner Profile stays with a student from kindergarten through 12th grade, so it was important to me that I laid a good foundation in each student’s profile to help the next teacher be successful as the student continues on their journey through school,” Melissa said.
Learner Profiles aren’t just for the benefit of the teacher. They give each student a chance to better know and become advocates for themselves in their learning.
“We are building the profiles with the students so they can continually see their strengths, interests and areas for improvements and then add and revise the profile throughout the years to reflect where they are in that given time,” says Sharina. “By the time they leave SLP, they have a really good understanding of the type of learner they are and discover a lot of their interests which will benefit them in the next stage of their lives.”
The information in the learner profile can eventually help each student find their right path for career, college and life.
“It's important for students to begin thinking right away about what works and doesn’t work for them as a learner,” says Lindsay. “And those aspects might change as they head to first grade or sixth grade or twelfth grade but just beginning to have that awareness right away in their educational journey will make a huge difference in the long run.”
Benefits from the beginning
In the first days of the school year, Melissa already saw a smooth transition for the students who attended Kinder Camp.
“I could tell they felt more comfortable with the room, their classmates and understood what the expectations are of them when they are at school,” says Melissa.
Kimber also saw a difference.
“The experiences and connections students made during Kinder Camp led to students feeling very confident on day one coming into school and into my classroom,” she says.
In Melissa’s room students who attended Kinder Camp automatically lent a helping hand to those who couldn’t attend.
“It seems like they already felt a sense of belonging at the school and took a leadership role in helping students that did not have the opportunity to be a part of Kinder Camp,” says Melissa. “I can truthfully say that Kinder Camp was such a positive experience for my students and for me as a teacher.”
While we can barely imagine the world they will graduate into in 2034, this crew of K’s has a strong start as they journey toward their graduation day.