Future Jefferson kindergarteners go down the slide at Dacota Street Park.
Charlie and Allison Villanueva aren’t too nervous about their son, Oliver, starting kindergarten at Jefferson Elementary in September. But when the kindergarten teachers at his new school offered a chance to play in the park with his future classmates, they jumped at the opportunity.
“I just wanted Oliver to get to play with some of his peers,” Charlie said on a beautiful Tuesday night at Dacota Street Park in Winona. “He’s on the [autism] spectrum, and I think it’s important to get to know some kids before he gets into the classroom.” Allison added, “He’s so excited to start kindergarten. Any opportunity to get his feet wet in the kindergarten process is welcome.”
The Villanuevas were one of several families with a kindergartener-to-be who took advantage of the first of three arranged play dates with the Jefferson kindergarten teachers.
“I got the idea from my son’s preschool teacher,” said Amber Scott, a kindergarten teacher at Jefferson. “She did it last year to meet the kids and the kids got to know each other. I have a child who is very shy, so it’s nice for him to meet others.”
The next date is on Thursday, August 15, at Jefferson Elementary School.
The first night couldn’t have gone better. The kids laughed and screamed as they went down a big twirly slide. Others played football in the grass. Some climbed on anything they could.
“I love seeing all the kids before school starts,” said Stacy Rasmussen, who is transitioning from a fourth-grade teacher to a kindergarten teacher. “It’s fun for them to get to know each other, too.”
The noise went down considerably when Scott broke out a cooler full of freeze pops, asking every kid which color they wanted, but it wasn’t long before the action picked up again.
“It’s nice to see the kids and the parents,” said Wendy Graves, whose son, Hayden, will start the Rios Spanish Immersion program in the fall. “We wanted to hang out with some new friends before heading off to school.”
Some of the faces were familiar. Others were new. Either way, it’s important for the kindergarten teachers, Scott said, to build a sense of community heading into the school year. “We do a lot between the four classes,” she said.
Funding for the event was provided by the Jefferson PTA and Parents Educating All Kids.
“It went really, really well tonight, and if it continues to go well, our plan is to continue it from year to year,” Scott said.