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Building bridge to school success
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Abraham Medina builds a Lego vehicle.

If you were to write a mission statement for educating your child, Manteca Unified Superintendent Jason Messer believes you can’t compose it better than this: Learning doesn’t start the first day of school; it starts the first day of life.
It is the mindset that has been driving Manteca Unified in their bid to help parents get youngsters “school ready.”
More than half of the 1,600 kids who step into a Manteca Unified classroom for their first day of kindergarten have already been  acclimated to the learning environment either as part of the district’s eight-day kindergarten bridge program in the summer or through a preschool program.
The importance of those eight days and the information parents are armed with can’t be over emphasized.
“It (the bridge program) teaches children not only to be ready for skills but also teaches skills for life,” Manteca Unified Director of School Readiness Nancy Leal told Manteca Rotarians meeting Thursday at Ernie’s Rendezvous Room.
The eight days are structured to help youngsters learn how to follow directions, how to get along with others, to work on critical thinking and a host of “soft skills” needed to succeed in school and life.
It also does another big thing that makes the first two weeks or so of kindergarten a breeze for teachers and students alike.
“It gets the crying out of the way,” Leal said of the separation anxiety that many kids experience when they start school.
The bridge program is made even smoother as it is taught using the teachers the youngsters will have when they start kindergarten.
“I love the Bridge program,” noted Rosemarie Buccieri who has taught the K Bridge at George McParland School for 8 years. “The children are exposed to school routines making them better prepared to enter the ‘academic world’ with less anxiety. Parents and children learn that school is a safe and fun place.”
Parents are brought into the loop on the first day of the bridge program about what to expect in the eight days and how they can help their child progress. Then on the final day parents are provided with information on what they should practice with their child for kindergarten as well as what to expect once they start kindergarten.
It also involves illustrating to parents how a child’s work is play. Examples include:
Drawing and painting that employs a child’s creativity helps develop writing skills.
Sharing time by talking to others about their personal experiences such as going to the movies develop language skills.
Having stories, rhymes and poems read to them each day helps develop listening skills.
Sharing playthings with others helps develop social skills.
Putting toys away after they are done with them helps develop responsibility.
Cutting and pasting such as for a collage helps develop writing skills by increasing awareness of what will fit and how it will fit. It also develops muscle in their hands. Both abilities are needed for writing.
uSinging, marching, running, and clapping hands in rhythm helps develop self-expression, coordination, and basic timing skills.
Looking at books, turning pages and enjoying colorful photos helps develop an interest in reading.
Outside activities such as climbing, running, jumping, throwing, and catching helps develop balance and coordination.
Taking walking trips through the neighborhood, taking nature walks, and riding the bus helps develop an awareness of the larger world by using all of their senses.
It is all part of an ongoing effort to make sure that students in the first four years of formal education successfully grasp the basics that create the foundation needed to tackle more intense academics as they progress toward the 12th grade. Study after study has shown that failing to grasp reading, basic math, and such leads to students struggling to the point in upper grades they become frustrated and lose interests in education. In a bid to get them back on track it takes a lot of effort that may not succeed.
 From that standpoint programs such as the kindergarten bridge endeavor and preschool can not only increase the chances of a student’s success but also maximize the expenditure of tax dollars.
It costs in excess of $10,000 a year to educate a student. By investing a fraction of that upfront not only are they ready for school but parents are engaged.
As part of the district’s school readiness program there are:
uFifteen preschool classes — 14 at district schools and one at the privately operated Kids Academy.
uHead Start is offered at Sequoia Elementary, McFall School, and Lathrop Preschool Center.
uThere are 13 transitional kindergarten classes at 10 schools.
The bridge program focusing on social emotion skills is open to all incoming kindergarten students.
It runs this year from July 23 through Aug. 1 — Monday through Friday the first week and Monday through Wednesday the second week.
Parents interested in preschool or K Bridge may contact the MUSD School Readiness department at 858-0848.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email