“Yay, No Computer!:” Bridge to First Grade Summer Program Eases Return to In-Person Learning
Rising Silverbrook Elementary School first-grader Nicolas Valdes wants his teacher to know his father has forgotten to do something: install an update on his computer.
Kathryn Desmond, who is leading a Silverbrook ES summer program for 14 children who spent their entire Kindergarten year as virtual students, assures Nicolas this won’t be a problem.
“Do not worry about that,” Desmond, the Bridge to First Grade program instructor at Silverbrook ES in Fairfax Station, tells Nicolas. “We are not going to be worrying about computers at all in here -- we are going to be talking, we are going to be writing, we are going to be drawing things, we are going to be moving our bodies -- we all have had plenty of computer time this year.”
Bridge to First Grade is part of Fairfax County Public Schools’ answer to resolving any gaps stemming from pandemic-related disruptions to learning over the past year. It was designed to help students in the transition to in-person learning, assisting those who spent the school year in virtual instruction, as well as those who may need support in strengthening self-regulation and social skills typically acquired during Kindergarten.
“Yay! No computer!,” Emma De Leon, another one of Desmond’s students says in response to her summer teacher’s device-free plans.
At Silverbrook, the masked students in the Bridge to First Grade classroom revisit typical Kindergarten themes, such as the concept of using tally marks when counting, or telling Desmond words that start with a given letter: “J is for jump -- or Josiah -- or jaws!”
And then they turn to using their hands to learn: designing flowers with different colored Unifix cubes, which help improve fine motor skills that are vital to handwriting, or using manipulatives like “teddy bear counters” that assist with visualizing numbers in basic math.
There’s also time for recess, and physical education games inside the gymnasium to escape the heat, such as “crab soccer” in which the students try to score goals while moving around on all fours like a crustacean. Desmond is sure to revisit even things like walking in a single file line, a school behavior that is taught and reinforced during early elementary school yet would have been missed entirely by students who spent the year learning from home.
On Day Three of Desmond’s Bridge to First Grade program, she also focused on social emotional learning, starting the day by leading her students through a manners primer on the importance of saying please and thank you.
Her morning message, which she encourages the children to read aloud to her and many do without hesitation, pushes her class to think about what it means to be a good friend. Several students eagerly raise their hand to share their views on friendship -- but Desmond wants them instead to turn to each other, and converse with a classmate about the concept of friendship.
Friendship consists of “playing together, and sharing your favorite color with your friend,” Zohal Popal tells Emma, who is seated next to her.
“ANNNND sharing your crayons and toys!” Emma responds.
Nicolas has something more to add after months of virtual school: “Or meeting your friends for the first time!”
Bridge to First Grade, new in 2021, is one of a variety of summer program offerings from FCPS. More than 36,900 students are enrolled in an array of programs spread across the summer running from June 21 to late August. The options include Bridge to Kindergarten for students with little preschool experience, Young Scholars -- which identifies and develops academic potential in students from historically underrepresented populations, elementary and middle school programs for students in need of additional math and reading support, English Language Learner instruction across grade levels, multiple programs catering to special education students, and credit recovery options for high school students.
FCPS is also offering fee-based summer enrichment activities in the arts and science, technology, math and engineering.