Imagine standing on one side of a body of water trying to get to the other side without a bridge.
Now imagine a 5-year old looking at that same problem but instead of water, the gap they are looking to get over is knowledge and maturity.
Realizing that sometimes pre-kindergarten classes aren’t enough and that those children with summer birthdays may not be ready just yet for kindergarten, Trinity Christian Academy created a Bridge Program to help.
Started in the 2018-19 school year, it was borne out of a need from parents who enrolled their children in pre-K at TCA who wanted to continue at the school and not necessarily have to repeat a pre-K class.
“The challenge was to provide a way to keep those children in our program who just needed that time to mature and develop their skills to be able to continue to progress in our elementary program,” Elementary Principal Dr. Steven Newby said. “Their only options - until we offered the Bridge Program - was to move their child somewhere else, which they did not want to do or have them repeat [pre-K], which was not the best educationally for their child.”
Julie Davis holds a master’s in curriculum and instruction in early childhood education and teaches the class. She said programs like the one at TCA are becoming increasing popular and are sometimes referred to as “transitional kindergarten,” or TK for short.
“In these programs, there is a total merge between traditional pre-K objectives, curriculum and learning outcomes and kindergarten objectives,” she said, adding that TCA’s program is for students who have already attended a traditional pre-K program, at the school or elsewhere.
After touring different surrounding schools that offer a similar program, Davis said the idea began to develop a program that was made for 5-year olds.
“In the beginning, it was somewhat of a step of faith if we would have enough students to fill a full classroom but each year, we have had tremendous interest in the program,” she said.
Davis explained that in almost all cases, Bridge students are those who have a summer birthday and are usually the youngest students in their grade level. She said when the age limit was legislated so that kindergartners be 5 by September 1, it was when school didn’t start until after Labor Day. Now, school starts in August so those children with a late summer birthday, they are barely 5 or sometimes even still 4.
“When you compare this with other students in the same class who will start turning 6 in September or early fall, we find that these kiddos with summer birthdays are almost a full year younger than some of their peers,” Davis said. “The Bridge class allows [the younger children] a full extra year of development…and allows them to then be the oldest in their grade.”
The curriculum still covers the basics to ensure there is a strong foundation in fundamental skills but it moves much faster and incorporates a lot of kindergarten objectives.
“We have a much meatier academic focus,” Davis said. “Students have the opportunity to learn more formal reading and writing skills.”
In addition to learning letters and sounds, Davis said students begin sight words, word families and each week, they have a reader to take home in addition to book bags that are kept in class they are reading on a daily basis.
The math portion focuses more on numeracy skills with higher order thinking, she said, and centers on longer units, which allows more in-depth study on concepts and incorporates hands-on learning.
Even though the focus in on academics, Davis said the program also helps with social and emotional development as well.
“We don’t neglect that many of these kids are very young and still need addition time to develop social and emotional skills,” she said. “We do centers, small ground instruction and instructional practices that allow for more social growth.”
Denise Smalley, TCA’s Early Childhood Coordinator, said the biggest benefit of the program is time.
“It helps each child discover the joy of learning and helps to develop a strong belief in their own abilities, better preparing them to succeed,” she said. “We have had nothing but wonderful feedback regarding students’ experiences and how well they are prepared for kindergarten upon leaving the class.”
Davis said the best part of teaching the class, for her, is seeing kids start to put concepts together and express themselves.
“Getting to see them make those connections if the most rewarding thing ever,” she admitted. “This class is like a puzzle - we give them all the pieces they need and then we get to really watch them put it together.”
Newby said the program fills up quickly. Enrollment begins for returning students in January and then open ups to the public in February. Aside from needing to have taken a pre-K class, there are no additional requirements to apply but he encourages parents to contact the school for a tour and interview.
“The best way to understand about our program is to see it in action,” he said. “We are always delighted to have individuals and families come for a tour of our facilities with the opportunity to visit with the teacher and myself. Our integrated Christian curriculum, combined with a planned academic program, provides an environment where children can flourish.”