When Henry Peters arrived this year as principal of South Vancouver’s John Henderson Elementary, one thing he noticed was that some children entering kindergarten weren’t as prepared for school life as they should have been.
“I see the kindergarteners every week and I could just tell at the beginning of the year that there was something missing in the basics — recognizing letters, sounds, colours, numbers — some of the things we take for granted in children arriving in kindergarten,” said Peters.
“Other things, too, like socialization — how do you play with other students of the same age, how do you take turns, how do you use the washroom, wash your hands, self-care … those things.”
The school on East 51st near Fraser St. has 479 students and four kindergarten classes.
“The community here is very strong and supportive, but it does have some challenges,” said Peters.
Many families are living in basement suites as they don’t have the ability to move to other cities where rents are more affordable, he said.
“That’s a struggle for a lot of families, and the kids who come to kindergarten struggle, too, and are not school-ready,” he said.
There is a StrongStart program for three-to-five year olds that runs each morning, but it is overloaded and can’t handle the volume of parents wanting to enroll their children.
“We have to tell them we can’t take any more because of fire marshal regulations.”
Peters is asking The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School campaign for $10,000 so he can run a second program for parents and children each afternoon, specifically designed for children about to enter kindergarten in September.
It is a program that Adopt-A-School has been supporting for a number of years and is hoping to maintain it.
Zabeen Hussain teaches StrongStart and says the afternoon program, which she will run, would be solely directed at getting children ready for school.
“StrongStart is a lot of play, but the afternoon program is for children coming into kindergarten and is more focused on learning.”
How important is it?
“Very. We have a large population of Southeast Asian families, and their thinking is a little bit different about school. They believe if they send their children to school they will learn what they need without them having to do any work at home.
“But that’s not the case. Children have to be ready for school, be able to write their name, recognize the alphabet, show some critical thinking. So, in some ways, we have to educate the children and parents,” she said.
Parents and caregivers will be required to accompany children in the program.
Peters said early intervention is important. Supporting children when they first enter school has the most impact.
“I’m not going to say they won’t be successful at school or won’t graduate, but getting them ready for school at least levels the playing field for these children at the beginning,” he said.
Peters said the afternoon program would also expose some parents to social and health programs they may not be aware of.
“Some of our communities are not as aware about what supports there are for their kids if they have physical or medical or intellectual needs. Some communities have more education around what services they can go to for help when they are thinking about how their child is developing,” said Peters.
So having parents and caregivers attend the program was a good way to get them connected to the social and medical systems, he said.
“In some ways, this program is a pre-screener. Perhaps a child has an intellectual disability or even a physical one. It’s a way of connecting to community services or Vancouver Coastal Health, and that’s very important.”
By Gerry Bellett (firstname.lastname@example.org)