Kindergarten Prep Camp gets at-risk children “ready to learn”

Picture a child who doesn’t know a single letter of the alphabet, yet she is entering school. In Shawnee County, 55 percent of children enter kindergarten unprepared. To make sure every child has a chance to succeed, United Way of Greater Topeka invests your donor dollars in an annual Kindergarten Prep Camp for at-risk children with little or no preschool education or for whom English is not their primary language.

For every 50 children who don’t learn to read in kindergarten, 44 will still be struggling in the 3rd grade. New research shows grades and absenteeism by 3rd grade can predict dropouts with 90 percent accuracy.

So, United Way offers a four-week, half-day Kindergarten Prep Camp to help children learn critical pre-literacy skills such as learning to recognize letters and the sounds they make, identifying numbers and shapes and learning to write their names. Students who keep pace with their peers are more likely to graduate. Those who start behind have difficulty catching up and often lose interest in school and drop out before graduating.

Some of United Way’s Youth Volunteer Corps members volunteered at the camp this year, reading to and working with students. The YVC members, age 11 to 18, were surprised to discover that one young girl knew her colors in Spanish but didn’t know them in English. They helped her learn them. By the end of her time in Kindergarten Prep Camp, the little girl who didn’t know a single letter had learned her entire alphabet as well as other skills necessary to succeed in kindergarten.

In 2013, 69 percent of the students tested ready for kindergarten upon completion of the camp — 15 percent higher than the average rate for all of Shawnee County. This year, 48 more children completed the camp.