'Ready Freddy' program preps new students for first day of school

Junior Gonzalez
York Dispatch

Several local school districts plan to jump start the new school year by hosting educational sessions for young students in the days leading up to the first day of classes.

The Ready Freddy program, run by the United Way of York, has collaborated with school districts since 2009 to provide essential skills to children entering elementary school, said Nicole Shaffer, communications director for the United Way of York.

Jennifer Dennish, right, reads a book to students enrolled in the Ready Freddy program at Pleasant View Elementary School on Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2017.

The program is based on a book titled "Ready Freddy Goes to School," by Ken Smythe-Leistico, about a frog who prepares for his first day of school.

Classes are taught by early childhood educators from the United Way and early grade teachers at the school district, but parental involvement is crucial to the program’s success.

"It’s essential. It’s required," Shaffer said. "It's a three-way involvement with the teacher, student and parent. We need to have the same messaging. It won't work if parents aren’t involved."

At Pleasant View Elementary School in Red Lion, 28 children came along with their parents for the first day of Ready Freddy on Tuesday, Aug. 1.

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"Put your hands on your head if you're excited about starting kindergarten," said Nicole Adams, a first-grade teacher at Mazie Gable Elementary School. Nearly every head in the classroom had hands on it.

Teaching the basics: Ready Freddy aims to get new students accustomed to structured learning, said Shawnee Hooper, a coordinator with the Ready Freddy program for the United Way of York.

"We want to let parents know how to get that inquisitive language on them," she said, such as pointing out details in their descriptions and giving them more advanced vocabulary.

Hooper cited a striped polo shirt as an example. When the child says "up and down lines" parents can teach their children what it means for something to be vertical.

She added children are also intentionally sent to rooms apart from parents in every session to start the expectation of separation during the day.

"I've seen some children come in very nervous and leave with a very different reaction," Hooper said.

The course: At Pleasant View, the children were tasked with describing themselves to their parents and drawing themselves with crayons.

Samantha Simpkins of Red Lion said while her son Jace, 5, gave simple answers to questions about how he views himself, they illustrated who he saw as important figures in his life.

"He wanted to draw himself 'dabbing' because that's what his older brother does," she said.

The hour-long session saw teachers reading to the children twice, and that trend will continue in future sessions, said Jennifer Dennish, a kindergarten teacher at Larry J. Macaluso Elementary School in Red Lion.

"We read everything to them: the title, the author and of course, the book," the second-year Ready Freddy instructor said. "It gets the parents exposed to how we read so they can do the same at home."

This year the United Way of York is collaborating with Eastern York, Northeastern, Red Lion, South Eastern, South Western, York City and Hanover  school districts.

Parents may still register for upcoming classes. For more information on Ready Freddy and to find out when sessions are held at a school near you,  visit http://www.unitedway-york.org/ready-freddy