Bright Spots showcase the work that Grade-Level Reading communities are doing to make progress on school readiness, school attendance and summer learning by 2016.  

Today’s feature – highlighting an effort to expand opportunities during the summer before kindergarten  – is the third in a periodic series of “summer” Bright Spots, in advance of Summer Learning Day 2014 on June 20, sponsored by the National Summer Learning AssociationContinue reading below or Download a PDF version.

In Connecticut’s most populous city, Bridgeport, 34 percent of children begin kindergarten with no formal early learning experience, hampering their ability to read proficiently by the end of third grade.

Among Bridgeport’s efforts to address this is a free summer program for some of these children, designed to ease their transition to kindergarten by providing activities that introduce early literacy, numbers, group play and more. 

The half-day Kick Off to Kindergarten (KOK) is the result of efforts by several Grade-Level Reading coalition members including the Bridgeport Alliance for Young Children (BAYC); the Bridgeport Public Schools, which provides the classrooms and meals; and the United Way of Coastal Fairfield County, whose grant pays for certified Bridgeport early childhood teachers, paraprofessionals and supplies.

Last year, the average score of children who took the Brigance Preschool Assessment before and after attending KOK rose from 54 to 64 out of 100 points. “It’s so rewarding to see children who have had no preschool experience enter a developmentally appropriate classroom and show growth in a short period of time,” says Patti Sorrentino-Galello, a KOK coordinator.

During the past six years, KOK has worked to meet the challenges of operating in the summer and without the funding to provide transportation. In the past, KOK was held in two schools in the city. This summer, KOK will be held in four schools, in different parts of the city, in an attempt to increase enrollment and improve attendance.

“We’re trying a different strategy to see if we can reach more children,” says Tina Peloso-Ulreich, the school district’s director of early childhood education, noting that 2013 enrollment was 50 rather than the usual 72. Also, on some particularly hot days last summer, some children at one school did not attend. Their parents, who walk them to school, cited the distance and heat.

In recent years, KOK also reduced the number of assessments it gives children to a pre-test and post-test. “It is more important to provide high-quality teaching than to administer several assessments in a short period of time,” says Peloso-Ulreich. During the KOK program, teachers use a skill-based, vocabulary-rich curriculum and teach print concepts, early literacy and numeracy skills as well as social and emotional skills.

Intentionally held in air-conditioned schools, the program’s classrooms each have up to 18 children, led by a teacher and a paraprofessional. Several teachers speak both Spanish and English, to better serve minority children, including some from families who recently arrived from Central America and South America.

KOK also works to prepare parents, and sometimes grandparents, for their children’s schooling and to reduce separation issues. Two workshops are offered in Spanish and English.

“They’re learning about ways to work with their children to help them have a successful school experience, and [about] the importance of attendance and of being engaged in the school community,” says Peloso-Ulreich. 

To find eligible students, elementary schools forward the names of incoming kindergartners who have not attended preschool, according to information provided by their families during school registration opportunities that start in the spring. KOK staff then contact the families.

Free radio spots get the word out. Brochures also are distributed at schools, grocery stores and other places where parents — or grandparents — are likely to be. This year that will include nail salons, frequented by young parents, and senior centers, to tout the program with grandparents.

“For a child who’s never been in a formal classroom setting, learning about the structure of the school day, about saying goodbye to mom” is beneficial, says Peloso-Ulreich. “In the beginning of the program, you see the hesitant child who is having separation issues and might cry. But by the end of the first week, most children come in happily and are learning to follow directions, take turns and share. The social-emotional growth is tremendous.”

For more information contact Tina Peloso-Ulreich at 203-275-1264

Photos: Bridgeport Public School District

You can nominate a Bright Spot in your community by emailing Betsy Rubiner at


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