I am pleased to introduce you to another YRDSB colleague of mine who happens to share the same first name with me! Joanne Trim is a Full-Day Kindergarten teacher who I had the good fortune to work with in the Building Blocks for Kindergarten (BBFK) program. As a first year Regional Teacher Leader, I really benefited from her support, as well as the support of our third partner Krista Keirstead.
I invited Joanne Trim to share with our blog readers what BBFK is all about and would like to thank her for agreeing to share her reflections with us!
Here are her insights:
For the past two years I have had the privilege to be one of the three Regional Teachers for the Building Blocks for Kindergarten (BBFK) program with the York Region District Board of Education. “Building Blocks for Kindergarten” is a free summer program designed to build and increase children’s literacy skills, personal and social development and to help our youngest learners and their families with their transition into school. Literacy is embedded into all aspects of the program in order to provide children many opportunities to develop their reading, writing and oral communication skills. Personal and social development is fostered by providing children opportunities to work with others at a variety of whole group and small group activities and through play-based learning. The program has flexible and responsive teaching plans that are both intentional and developmentally appropriate for young children. Program lessons and activities are planned according to the children’s strengths and needs based on assessment data.
The students who participate in the BBFK program are children who are entering JK in September and have no prior preschool experience, those who may have difficulty with the transition into school for reasons including the fact that they are English Language Learners, and other JK students where space allows. Each BBFK program has a capacity for twenty participants. Each BBFK classroom has one teacher and one Senior Counsellor. Some also have support from an Educational Asssistant if a student has been involved with Early Intervention Services. BBFK begins on the Tuesday following the July long weekend and runs for four weeks. Students attend the program from 9:00 am until 12:00 pm.
BBFK started as a pilot program in 2007 and became part of a three year YRDSB research project. In 2007 it was offered at one test site. In 2008 it was offered at several P+ schools and continued to expand through 2009. In 2010, research indicated successful outcomes for the participants and funding was provided to merge programs previously offered by the YRDSB and Ontario Early Years Centres. In consultation with OEYC and Curriculum Services, BBFK became the standard program offered. At that point, there were 25 schools participating. This summer (2013) we hosted 42 programs! Most of the programs are located at Performance Plus schools, but many principals are now recognizing the power of the program and using OFIP funds to offer a class for their school. One principal at a Performance Plus school this past year realized the impact that BBFK had on JK students in the past and opened up a second program in his school by utilizing OFIP funds. His school hosts 6 FDK classrooms and this allowed 40 JK students to have a jump start on their learning journey.
Part of the success of the program is the fact that it involves many stakeholders. Teachers, administrators, YRDSB Speech and Language Pathologists, OEYC and other community partners work together with the students and parents to support their needs. The first day of the program is set up as a supported entry day. The children and the parents/caregivers are given a 15 minute timeslot to meet the program teachers and see the classroom. The teachers have an opportunity to meet the students, talk to the parents, answer questions and do some initial assessments and observations. Each Friday, parents and caregivers are invited back into the classroom for the last half hour of the program. During this time, they are able to get a glimpse of what JK may look like for their children in the fall and to get some of their questions answered by the teaching team. Also on Friday, each student receives activities to take home to continue his/her learning and to strengthen the home-school connection. Throughout the program, S-LPs from the YRDSB visit classrooms and interact with the students. They set up dramatic play centres and model strong oral language for the students and work with a small group of students at each site for assessment purposes. As a result, many parents of students who may require articulation or language support receive the information they require to connect with pre-school language programs to support their child’s language development. Parents are invited to a workshop provided by the Speech and Language Pathologist where they can learn more about supporting their child’s language development and ask any burning questions they may have. Community partners also visit each site and help parents become more aware of supports that are available to them. Some sites are visited by an OEYC staff member who runs a 45 minute yoga class for the students and their family members.
Over the past two years, I have had the opportunity to visit all of the programs in the North area of our Board. That means that I’ve had the pleasure of seeing over 400 students participate in our BBFK program. I have seen students who were crying and trying to run out of the classroom during the first week become so engaged in learning that by the end of the program they are crying because they don’t want to leave! I have watched students who did not speak at all at the beginning of the program turn into the loudest and most enthusiastic participants during the singing of a favourite new song or chant. I have witnessed shy, quiet students who aren’t accustomed to interacting with children their own age establish new friendships and learn to work cooperatively with their peers. Many students enter the program not being able to recognize their name in print and are able to print the first letter, a few letters, or even their entire name by the end of the program! They begin to see themselves as readers and writers!
One of my favourite memories is of a boy who discovered what an eraser is! I was sitting with him while he was experimenting with various writing tools. He was using a pencil and became frustrated when he made a mistake. I told him not to worry because we could erase it and fix it. He looked at me blankly because he didn’t understand what I meant by that. I picked up an eraser, made a mark on a piece of paper and then erased it. His eyes opened as wide as saucers and his mouth dropped open as the pencil mark disappeared before his eyes. He was speechless!! I asked him if he would like to try it and he told me that he would like for me to do it again. It was just as miraculous for him the second time around. I held out the eraser for him to use and this time he took it. He drew a line on his piece of paper and tentatively began to use the eraser. I had to show him how to use the edge, and after that there was no stopping him! He spent the next 10 minutes or more making marks with his pencil and then erasing them. Each time he did so his face lit up! I have always felt that one of our biggest challenges in Kindergarten is finding the balance between not underestimating or overestimating what our students know and can do. This was a perfect example of something that many of us assume our students would know - that an eraser is a tool that we can use to make our errors disappear. However, this was a child who had no prior experience with writing and for him this was an incredible discovery! When we take the time to sit down with our students and to listen to them and observe what they are doing, we can have the honour of being part of their brilliant discoveries and their revelations – bits of information and knowledge that they can share with us that we may have otherwise assumed they still needed to learn from us. Because of my experiences with BBFK, I have had the opportunity to witness many “a-ha” moments from both staff and students and the eagerness to return to school in the fall to continue their journey of learning. I have read over the questionnaires filled out by parents at the end of the program telling us of the changes they have seen in their children over the four weeks of the program and of the decrease in anxiety they as parents feel about sending their children to JK in the fall. Many have also gained new insights into the programs that are available in their community and have commented that they will make use of them during the remainder of the summer and into the school year.
Last year I taught FDK in a school that had a BBFK program during the summer. I saw first hand, as a classroom teacher, the impact that BBFK can have on our students. Two of my students attended the program and I could see the ease with which they transitioned into the school year in September. One was still extremely shy and took a while to open up fully to myself and the DECE who I work with, but by the end of the year she was very vocal and fully engaged in our program and was reading at Level 3 and writing complete sentences using both inventive spelling and some known words by the end of her JK year! Despite her extreme shyness, she began interacting and communicating with her peers very early on in the school year. I would think that her participation the BBFK program played a large role in her ability to do this.
I have always been very proud to be a teacher with the York Region District School Board and am thrilled that I have had the opportunity to be involved with such a meaningful and impactful program for our youngest learners! It has been an honour to work with other educators who also feel strongly about the importance of supporting our future students and their families and easing their transition into the school years.
Thank you again to Joanne Trim for her thoughtful post. It was such a pleasure to feature her thinking on our "On Display" post today. I'm already looking forward to reconnecting next week at Great Beginnings and collaborating throughout the school year!