Getting a jump start

David Resendiz (left) and Levi Heiner work on numbers in the Jumpstart program taught by kindergarten teacher Jennifer Petersen on Thursday. A.H. Bush elementary offered students in kindergarten and first grade an opportunity to jump start school by creating a program where students are in class for three weeks prior to the start of the school year. Monte LaOrange /

Starting kindergarten isn’t easy.

There are all those rules: when to raise your hand, how to sit down quietly, how to follow directions. There’s the shock, for the first time, of being separated from your parents. And then there’s all that learning: how to hold a pencil, how to count, recognizing letters — it’s exhausting.

Administrators at A.H. Bush Elementary hope to turn those pre-K jitters into confidence.

This year the school piloted Jumpstart — a program to help prepare incoming kindergartners and first-graders for their respective grade levels. It’s also geared to get students in “learning mode” and, ideally, better help them have a successful school year. About 30 children took part in the three-week program, which wrapped up Thursday, Bush Principal Sarah Sanders said.

“For many kids, it’s their first experience in school,” she said. “When they’re at home and with their families, it’s just you and maybe a couple students. But here, with so many more and all the different personalities and backgrounds all coming together as one, that’s pretty stimulating for a 5-year-old.”

Bush elementary paid for the program with about $3,000 of its school Title I funds, a federal program designed for struggling students.

Jumpstart program students took part in a variety of school-preparatory activities such as holding school utensils correctly, distinguishing letters from numbers, writing names and learning vocabulary from books typically read during the school year, kindergarten teacher Jennifer Petersen said. They also learned typical classroom tasks, such as how to properly raise their hands.

Many students this year were nominated by teachers or parents. Many of those targeted were bilingual or speak Spanish as a first language, Sanders said. Many never attended preschool. A report released this summer found that Idaho preschool attendance ranks among the lowest in the country. Sixty-five percent of Gem State 3- to 4-year-olds don’t attend preschool, the report said.

“If they’ve never been in a classroom situation, they don’t know what it’s like and they don’t know all the rules there are to follow,” Petersen said. “Some of them have never been away from mom. So this is targeted to help those kids, so that the first day of school isn’t so intimidating. They’re like, ‘I know how to do this.’ And hopefully there are less tears and more smiles and success.”

Among students participating was 5-year-old Matt Rhodes, an incoming kindergartner. Matt said he’s learned how to count to nine, and he’s already gotten a head start on making friends. He said he’s looking forward to the first day of school.

“I’m (excited) that I will get to make friends,” he said.

Six-year-old Jose Trejo was among the program’s participating first-graders. He said he’s learned to count backwards and how to read better.

“I like school because I get to learn and make stories,” he said.

Bush administrators hope to see a similar program eventually put into place in other local schools. They administered a pre-test and a post-test of academic skills, and were satisfied with the growth results.

“I think it’d be very effective for other schools,” Petersen said. “We’ve seen success. I hope it’s something that continues year after year. We’ve had students go from knowing no letters to knowing five letters, and I think that’s pretty significant.”