The Columns

Screening for Success: A Day in K Rockbridge-area schools systems, universities and community volunteers joined forces to make the first-annual “A Day in K” event at Hull’s Drive-in a success for local kids.

— by on August 31st, 2016

A Day in K

“I think the best takeaway from the night was it didn’t matter what school or whatever, it truly was a community thing.” – Timothy Martino, principal of Waddell Elementary School

Tears and trepidation are practically guaranteed on the first day of kindergarten — for children and parents alike.

But this fall, when kids are packed off to school for the first time in Buena Vista, Lexington and Rockbridge County, there’s a good chance that many of them will be more excited than afraid. Thanks to an event held at Hull’s Drive-in on April 14, those students will be able to picture kindergarten as a fun and welcoming experience instead of something to fear.

The first-annual “A Day in K” was a festival-like event featuring a short film made by students in W&L Professor Haley Sigler’s Teaching Elementary Reading class. The event was organized by representatives from Rockbridge Reads (part of the United Way of Rockbridge), as well as all three public school systems, Washington and Lee University and Southern Virginia University. Additional support came from Virginia Military Institute, Lexington fire and police departments, Buena Vista Police Department, South River Volunteer Fire Department and Fairfield Volunteer Rescue Squad, along with a number of other individuals and organizations that volunteered time and resources.

“I think the best takeaway from the night was it didn’t matter what school or whatever, it truly was a community thing,” said Timothy Martino, principal of Harrington Waddell Elementary School in Lexington. “It wasn’t separated by the Rockbridge people over here, the Lexington people over here. It really just said we all want the same thing, and that is never a bad message to send out.”

“Free popcorn” is never a bad message to send out to the families of young children, either. Nor is the promise of fire trucks, police cruisers, an ambulance, a school bus, face painting, a children’s movie and free goodies such as books, stickers and crayons. The evening at Hull’s offered all of those treats, but the capstone was the screening of “A Day in K,” the video made by Sigler’s class.

The class is part of the Rockbridge Teacher Education Consortium, a partnership between Washington and Lee University and Southern Virginia University. Sigler said the students in her class are always required to develop a service-learning project, and her winter term class came up with the idea to create a short film that would model a typical day in kindergarten.

The 10 students in the class divided up and gathered smartphone video at elementary schools across all three local school divisions, striving to capture footage of activities that make up a day in kindergarten. They shot video of buses rolling in and parents dropping off students; panned colorful classrooms packed with puppets, posters, books and other fun learning tools; and captured welcoming messages from teachers and administrators. They caught kids practicing reading and writing, singing and dancing, playing during recess, and lining up to board the bus at the end of the day.

One of Sigler’s students, a mass communications major with some experience editing video, knitted the clips together using iMovie. The video was broken up by titles that were narrated by Sigler’s daughter, Claire. The completed film, which was about eight minutes long, was projected on the movie screen at Hull’s.

“As far as a service-learning project for my class, it is possibly the most rewarding project we have done so far,” Sigler said. Most of the past projects have been completed and sent off to community partners, so students often don’t get to see results in action, she said. “It was better than I had imagined. It was really exciting for my students to be a part of it.”

After months of work and committee meetings, the day of the event arrived with beautiful spring weather. United Way board member Kelly Fujiwara estimated that at least 200 people turned out at the drive-in, and about a quarter were children of kindergarten age or younger. She said people were waiting in line when the gates opened at 6 p.m.

For about two hours, children explored a school bus and checked out ambulance and fire truck. Some were so excited by the opportunity to sit in the back seat of the police cruiser that they cried when their parents forced them to move on (hopefully, Fujiwara joked, they’ve now gotten that desire out of their systems).

Kids were also entertained by VMI’s mascot, Moe the kangaroo, and by Rockbridge County High School’s Wildcat. They picked up free books that had been collected in a drive organized by students of VMI professor Josh Iddings. With 250 books to hand out, there were leftovers that were donated to the schools.

“Everyone appeared to have a good time and wanted to come back next year,” Fujiwara said. “The schools all expressed a lot of pleasure in being there and being able to participate. There were teachers and administrators and parents who were willing to talk to families and kids. It was very festive, and there was a lot of giggling and laughing.”

When the event committee met several days later, members agreed that “A Day in K” was a success that should be repeated annually. They discussed whether any tweaks should be made and determined that the only significant change ought to be in timing. Because the weather was so lovely, it did not get dark enough to screen the films until about a half-hour later than planned.

Next year, committee members said, it will be easier to make a new film and market the event to community partners and the target audience because of what they accomplished and learned this year. Although intended for rising kindergarteners, “A Day in K” benefits children from birth to age 5 and beyond, as well as their families.

“I think the goal of Rockbridge Reads is to get kids ready to go to school. And so, in that sense, any trickle-down is gravy,” Fujiwara said. “That even goes on the other side of kindergarten because we know that we have kids who aren’t reading on grade level. So if we can get books in kids’ hands; if we can make parents, grandparents and caregivers see that these are things that are good and everybody wins, I think we have hit a home run.”

— by Lindsey Nair | lnair@wlu.edu