Williams Elementary KinderCamp kicks off summer learning program

Coconino County Public Health Employee Sharon Stifling (right) teaches upcoming Williams Elementary School kindergarteners about nutrition during KinderCamp. Wendy Howell/WGCN

Coconino County Public Health Employee Sharon Stifling (right) teaches upcoming Williams Elementary School kindergarteners about nutrition during KinderCamp. Wendy Howell/WGCN

WILLIAMS, Ariz. - Coconino County Public Health Employee Sharon Stifling hands out strawberry seeds, cups and soil to a legion of four and five-year olds.

Seeds need soil, water and light.

The four and five-year-old students aren't kindergarteners yet. They're part of KinderCamp, a program designed to help students transition into kindergarten. Stifling is at Williams Elementary-Middle School for the day to teach the kids about nutrition.

KinderCamp is an early intervention pre-school program for incoming kindergarteners. A grant from United Way of Northern Arizona and First Things First pays for the program, which is free for students. This is the third year Williams Unified School District has offered KinderCamp and 22 students are enrolled.

This year's staff includes coordinator Deniz Chavez, kindergartener teachers Natalie Mann and Louis Durant, and two teacher's assistants.

The program helps incoming kindergarteners build skills that support learning, such as following directions, taking turns, learning with other children, learning by manipulating, investigating and asking questions.

"We've found that the kids are so much better adjusted. They know how the lunch room works, they know how to stand in line, they just know what to expect," Chavez said.

KinderCamp started June 1 and continues through June 26. Students attend Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to noon. As part of the program, students eat breakfast and lunch and have two recesses.

Although KinderCamp is an academic program, it includes fun days too. The children will have a Big Rigs Day with the Police and Fire Departments, and then have a day where theymeet Smokey the Bear and visit Bearizona.

Durant is concerned that there are many families that haven't heard of KinderCamp - families that live rurally or don't participate in Headstart.

"Those who live on the outskirts or whose children have never attended preschool could really benefit," Durant said, "and I'm concerned that they don't know about the program."

This is the final year of the KinderCamp grant from United Way and First Things First. Chavez said the organization is trying to find funds to continue the program in Williams.

Currently, there is not a pre-school program offered for the general population in Williams outside of Head Start, which is offered based on income level.

"I see a big difference between the kindergarteners who have been in the program and those who haven't. The ones who have, adjust much easier when kindergarten starts," Durant said.

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