Grant recipient hopes to promote lifetime learning by aiding with transition to kindergarten

Jun. 17, 2013 @ 12:36 PM

It was 10:30 on a Tuesday morning earlier this month when the group of 5-year-old children trekked through the doors at Pearsontown Elementary School in Durham. This was their very first visit on an elementary campus, organized as part of a Transition to Kindergarten event through their preschool, Toddlers Academy, Inc.
The nine children had the rare opportunity to learn and play in a kindergarten classroom, eat lunch in the elementary school cafeteria, and visit the campus playground.  All this excitement before nap time.
Durham’s Partnership for Children recently selected Toddlers Academy, Inc. as one of 11 recipients of its Transition to Kindergarten mini-grants. The 11 recipients, all of whom were either child-care sites or elementary schools, received a total of $6,030. Toddlers Academy, Inc. was chosen as a recipient based on its plan to accustom children to kindergarten. 
The child-care center’s full grant project includes: distribution of photo books of their new school to pre-kindergarten students; creation of a “This is Me” portfolio of children’s work to be shared with their new teachers; encouraging parents to visit Pearsontown Elementary School; and, finally, the class trip to tour their future elementary school.
“We have done some smaller-scale programs in the past about preparing children for kindergarten,” said Valerie Whitted, Director of Toddlers Academy, Inc.  “Even the small-scale programs were visibly beneficial because children have a fear of the unknown. A child’s familiarization with a new environment is crucial.” 
The majority of the grant funds were used to secure transportation of children to Pearsontown Elementary School, the Durham Public School that Toddlers Academy, Inc. chose to partner with for its class trips.
“A majority of students feed into Pearsontown so the partnership with them was really natural,” said Whitted.  Because so many of the Toddlers Academy, Inc. students will attend Pearsontown Elementary, Whitted plans to raise awareness of open house events already scheduled by the school.
“We planned two class trips to Pearsontown,” said Whitted. “One to familiarize the children with the grounds and another to let them become more comfortable in that setting.”
Partnership for Children staff were able to take part in one of those trips - implemented in early June – and see the benefits of the transition-focused activity firsthand. It was obvious the children were amazed by the unique features of the kindergarten classroom, including the word wall, computers, and puppets in the reading area.
“Our children just loved the entire experience and seemed to grow up a bit more before our eyes due to the adventure,” Whitted said. 
The Transition to Kindergarten (TTK) Initiative is a collaborative effort between the Partnership and Durham Public Schools that seeks to prepare children and families for the emotional and educational changes that children will undergo as they enter kindergarten. 
Whitted heard about the grant opportunity when several of her staff members attended a training session hosted by the Partnership. In addition to the funding through the TTK grant, the Partnership provided the child-care center with “Blast Off to Kindergarten” kits that included scissors, books, crayons, shape sorters and other materials that children can use to prepare for and get excited about kindergarten.
“The TTK Initiative is a great investment because you can so easily see the effect on the children’s behavior and attitude toward learning,” said Whitted. She stressed the importance of this program because of the impressionable stage that children are in.
The TTK Initiative hosts events like Countdown to Kindergarten, Steps to School Nights and Teachers Talk Forums to prepare students, parents, and teachers for a smooth transition into the classroom. 
Toddlers Academy, Inc. was founded in 1972 by Whitted’s mother, Lonita, and has grown as a family business. Lonita Whitted serves as executive director alongside her daughter, Valerie, and Valerie’s husband, Karl Baker. 
Throughout the 41 years in business, the academy has grown from several children in the family’s living room to a 99-child capacity facility on Beechwood Drive. There are currently 60 children enrolled and 18 full- and part-time staff members. 
Throughout the school, there is a clear emphasis on recognizing the students and their talents. The hall is decorated with students’ artwork and preschool graduation photos.
Several of the children’s parents are in the process of receiving their college degree, helping to show the children the importance of lifetime learning.  “It is so important for parents to be excited about education because then it sets up the children for a lifetime of learning,” Whitted said.  “And receiving this grant through the TTK Initiative will certainly make the parents and children even more excited about lifetime learning.”