Kindergarten Karavan connects with incoming students

Staff get an early start, casts a wider net in an effort to enroll kindergartners for fall.

(Courtesy Photo) Teachers and staff assemble before heading out to visit the homes of children who will be kindergarten age this fall
(Courtesy Photo) Teachers and staff assemble before heading out to visit the homes of children who will be kindergarten age this fall

Every fall, a new group of kindergartners —  some excited, some teary — heads to school for their first day of what should be a 13-year foray into formal education. Inevitably, a few are missing: Perhaps their families didn’t realize that school starts before Labor Day. Maybe they’re new to the area, and don’t yet know which of the four bordering Wyoming districts is theirs.

Whatever the reason, by the time the child arrives at school, they might have already missed a week or two, putting them at a disadvantage academically and socially.

Enter the Kindergarten Karavan.

The home-visiting initiative, dreamed up by Godwin Heights Public Schools administrative staff, had 36 teachers and administrators pounding the pavement last week to invite families with kindergartners to sign up for school. They visited 109 homes, making contact with 80 families and leaving goodie bags with Godwin Heights swag and information for the remaining 29. Each “Karavan” team had at least one Spanish-speaking staff member.

North Godwin Elementary Principal Mary Lang was part of the planning and outreach. In the past, she said, enrollment efforts have included letters home to families who have students currently in the district, signs in front of the schools, social media outreach and letters to families with children in the Great Start Readiness Program.

It can be very confusing to parents to know when to enroll their children, Lang said, as most communication goes to current district families or is included in district publications. “If you’re not following those,” she said, “how would you know?”

Lang said having four school districts within the City of Wyoming can also be a source of confusion.

“They may live closer to a school in Kelloggsville, or they may figure that because they live in Wyoming, they’re automatically a part of Wyoming Public Schools, and that’s not always the case,” she said.

District Reconfiguring Schools

There’s another important reason for the Karavan: the school board in February voted unanimously for a reconfiguration of K-8 buildings in the district. North Godwin and West Godwin elementaries currently house students in kindergarten through fourth grade, while the middle school includes students in fifth through eighth grade. Next year that will change:

  • West Godwin will house kindergarten through second-grade students
  • North Godwin will house third through- fifth-grade students
  • The Middle School will house sixth- through eighth-grades

To reach all families, Lang used a lists of children who live in the district and are the right age for kindergarten — any child who will be 5 by Sept.1.

“Our intent is to begin building relationships immediately, before the kids even step into the school,” said Lang. “We want to be that positive connection for them right off the bat.”

Lang said the Karavan was a good opportunity to share with parents some of the programs available in the district. Some weren’t aware of the free breakfast and lunch programs available to their families, for example.

“We also were asking, ‘what are things we could offer that would entice you to come to our district?’” she said. “They’re our customers, so we’re trying to give the best customer service.”

Lang said she was able to meet with five of the eight families on her list.

“Everyone we contacted was extremely appreciative of us coming to them,” she said. “Their kids were excited, too. For those who already have kids in the district, they were excited about seeing some of the staff at their home.”

While families may enroll any time, a kindergarten registration for the 2019-2020 school year takes place from 6 to 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 18, at West Godwin Elementary School. The district also will hold an Enrollment Extravaganza in August, an annual event that gets more interest every year, Lang said.

Bridie Bereza
Bridie Bereza hails from Lansing and has worked in the Grand Rapids area as a reporter, freelance writer, and communicator since graduating from Aquinas College in 2003. She feels privileged to cover West Michigan's public schools and hopes to shed a little light on the amazing things happening there through her reporting. Read Bridie's full bio.

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