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N.E.S.T Program to help 'Eaglets' become lifelong learners

August 15, 2014...Manassas City Public School’s (MCPS) New Experiences in School Transitions (N.E.S.T) program is off to a soaring start thanks to a collaborative effort between teachers, administrators and our families.

Watch a video of the NEST program

N.E.S.T is a new program taking place at all five of the city’s elementary schools for rising kindergarten students and their families to help make the transition from home to school. Manassas City is one of only two school systems in the area that offers such an in-depth ‘orientation’ to rising kindergartners. For its designers and educators, the overreaching goal of the program is to grow today’s young learners into tomorrow’s high school leaders.

“N.E.S.T is a win-win opportunity for the students, their families, the kindergarten teacher, school and the community,” said Kendra Kielbasa, who is the Director for Smart Beginnings Greater Prince William, which a public-private partnership working to address kindergarten readiness in the area and helped pay for the t-shits worn by students during the program.

Baldwin Elementary School Assistant Principal Laura Goldzung said the program is full of students new to the school setting who will now be better prepared for the start of school in September. “[The program] is important because we will not be starting from zero on day one,” she said.

The student portion of N.E.S.T is not just academic, but follows a skills-based, age appropriate curriculum designed by MCPS Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI) and kindergarten teachers who are aware of the basic skills needed early on to ensure students get the most out of their learning experience in the formative years, identified as Pre-K through 3rd grade by educators.

“We are excited to be able to work through the day to day routines and processes, so when school starts we can get to learning,” Goldzung said. “Kindergarten is an exciting adventure for kids and their families, but it is also normal to feel anxious about starting school-- this can be a roadblock to learning when school starts.”

For three weeks before school starts, N.E.S.T exposes students and their families to daily school activities and routines, such as walking through the lunch line with their trays, bathroom breaks, group ‘carpet’ time, recess and basic safety procedures, including fire drills and tours of the nurse’s office, among many other routines that could be overwhelming to new students and their families.  Participants also get to experience what a kindergarten classroom looks like, begin learning tasks and interact with their teacher as well as peers. The students were “enjoying meeting new friends; possibly friends they may graduate high school with in 2027,” said Brian Moore, assistant principal at Round.

“When children learn the routine and behaviors that support classroom learning, teachers will be able to spend more time on actual instruction during the school year,” said Kielbasa of Smart Beginnings. “A child with appropriate social skills, who knows how to get in line, speak at appropriate times, and work with a routine will gain confidence and is likely to be an eager and curious learner.”

N.E.S.T participants at Jennie Dean Elementary School have been bonding and building relationships with their teachers, something Principal Dr. Zella Jones said is making the kids, as well as their families, “feel more comfortable.”

Families are an important part of N.E.S.T and were encouraged to ride the bus with their child on the first day of the program.

The program also offers themed parent sessions twice a week.  Topics discussed include, the importance of being on time to school, parental involvement and ‘coffee talk’ sessions to answer any questions parents may have about their child starting school.

Kimberly Twine, assistant principal at Haydon,  said the parent sessions have been very well received because it’s an opportunity for them address their concerns about their child starting school.

“A mother had called me to thank us, and to tell me how happy she is with the program,” said Haydon Principal Amanda Wilder. “She is so happy her son will now know how to ride the bus, navigate the school, and be ready to join the Haydon Hawks on September 2.”

Thirty-one parents spent an hour in their child’s classroom at Weems to observe the routine and work with their kids on important readiness skills that can be practiced at home.

One parent shared with Weems Assistant Principal Elizabeth Garry how grateful they were for the opportunity to have the" visual picture" of what the daily routine will be like for their child when they start kindergarten in just a few weeks.

“The parents really like the way that the program is preparing their children for the upcoming school year,” said Moore, who is the Assistant Principal at Round. “They really appreciate the fact that their children are gaining insight into the basic fundamentals of being a kindergarten student.”

All elementary schools reported 80 to 100 percent attendance for the N.E.S.T. program during the first week. According to Laura Goldzung, assistant principal at Baldwin, that’s important because that’s a lot of new students who will start school ready to learn and lead, not just now but in the future.