Rehearsing for the 1st day of school

  Volunteer Melinda Yow goes over a pretest with an incoming kindergartener. Yow said she was so alarmed by the statistics on the importance of grade-level reading that she decided to volunteer at the   Sea     Breeze   program.    

Volunteer Melinda Yow goes over a pretest with an incoming kindergartener. Yow said she was so alarmed by the statistics on the importance of grade-level reading that she decided to volunteer at the Sea Breeze program.


Pilot program at Sea Breeze Elementary aims to prepare new students and combat summer learning loss.

They cry a lot on the first day of kindergarten. For those parents, the ones who just can’t let go, Sea Breeze Elementary organizes a “Boo Hoo Breakfast.” This year, the school is working to acclimate kids and parents a lot earlier. 

The school developed a free summer program for all families with children entering pre-k and kindergarten at Sea Breeze. Through activities at home and on campus, the goal is to prepare kids for the expectations of school and introduce parents to ways they can help their children at home. 

“When children come to school for the first time it can be overwhelming,” said Dr. Sheila Halpin, Title I Specialist with the School District of Manatee County. “It’s a big campus for a little four or five-year-old. And for moms and dads it can be a little scary. So we wanted to bridge that and make those connections so that they’re excited about coming to school.”

Families are paired with volunteers who will stay in touch with parents throughout the summer. Together, they work on weekly “homework” assignments. Every other week, the families and volunteers come together for dinner and activities at the school. Parents will meet with teachers and school administrators throughout the summer so that, come fall, communication will be a little easier between home and school, Halpin said. 

Some of the kids have school experience through pre-kindergarten programs, but Halpin’s model is also trying to combat summer learning loss, also known as the "summer slide." This is also a goal of the national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. 

Summer vacation can make or break a child's progress in school. Studies show that kids are likely to lose academic skills if they're not engaged during the summer. According to the campaign, low-income students are particularly at risk. Without accessible, high quality programs or activities they’re likely to lose an average of two months' worth of academic skills during the summer. 

Kids who do stay engaged, are more likely to start the new school year ahead. Combatting summer learning loss helps teachers, too. With students who are at grade level, less time can be dedicated to re-teaching the previous year's lessons. 

The Sea Breeze program aims to mitigate the effects of summer learning loss by reinforcing concepts the kids learned in pre-k and giving parents the tools to keep their kids learning at home. Halpin said she doesn’t know of any other program like this one in county schools. Her hope is that it will be adopted by all Title 1 schools such as Sea Breeze, which serve a high percentage of students in low-income homes.  

The fact that it’s free is especially imporant for parents who often don’t have access to summer programs due to cost or transportation constraints.

Sea Breeze has received no funding for their pilot program but Halpin said she's gotten support from community members who donated the dinners for family night every other Tuesday. 

Teresa Ortiz decided to volunteer after seeing her own five-year-old nephew quickly pick up English after recently arriving from Cuba. On the first night of the program, Ortiz was paired with Adrian, whose family speaks only Spanish. Ortiz helped administer a pre-test. Once the school year begins, kids will take a post-teat to measure what they retained over the summer. "It's amazing how quickly kids can learn in such a short amount of time and with very little instruction," Ortiz said. 

In another room, science teacher Rick Smith taught parents basic science lessons they could do at home. Kids squealed as they pet a chicken and learned about counting and buoyancy by putting pennies in cups until they sank in the water. The lesson was clear. With very little money, very little time, and, well, maybe some water and a chicken or two, you can do a whole lot.