That was the message BJ Willis, with the Welcome to Kindergarten program, had for staff and students at Elm Street Elementary as she presented the school with an award recognizing its work in welcoming incoming kindergarten students.
Wednesday, before the more than 500 students and staff, principal Tracy Beaulieu accepted one of six Welcome to Kindergarten Awards for Partnership Excellence presented across the country.
The award, which comes with a $1,000 cash prize, recognized the school’s efforts in bringing in community partners to host a Welcome to Kindergarten event to introduce incoming kindergarten students and their parents to staff and even provide a chance for them to ride the bus and tour the facility.
“We know Elm Street’s the best, don’t we?” said Beaulieu, which prompted thunderous applause and cheers from the students.
On hand for the presentation were representatives from the Department of Education, the P.E.I. Home and School Federation president, and Doug MacDougall from the English Language School Board.
“The award that you are getting today is about teamwork,” MacDougall told the students and staff. “Many of you are on teams, whether it is gymnastics or hockey or music or drama, you are part of a group. In order to welcome our new kindergarten students into the school we needed a team to plan for that.”
The Welcome to Kindergarten Program is designed to help prepare preschoolers for a positive start to their school journey.
At Elm Street, that meant hosting an open house of sorts, which brought together several community groups and organizations, from Public Health Nursing, local law enforcement and occupational and speech therapists, to the Home and School Association and ADL, which provided snacks to parents and children.
“It’s the first year for the award so it is just so exciting that a school so deserving like Elm Street school has won it,” said Willis. “You know that everybody feels safe and welcome here and that the staff did go that extra mile to make sure that the parents and their children, when they first came to the Welcome to Kindergarten Program, experienced nothing but smiles.”
Elm Street Elementary is the only recipient of the award east of Ontario.
Willis said some of what was implemented at Elm Street to help transition preschoolers into kindergarten could be introduced at other Island schools.
“All our schools do a wonderful job with the kindergarten program,” she added. “We can’t work in isolation anymore and there are all these other organizations and people out there who are there to support children and families. We have to come together and we have to make it easy for parents to get together so they know that the OT does… where to find the speech language pathologist… about healthy snacks.
“Hopefully we can share the best practices from Elm Street and just grow the program. Every year it gets better.”
There are about 1,450 to 1,500 kindergarten students in the province.
“When we have orientations (this spring) it will be the fourth year for kindergarten in the public school system,” said Willis. “This is a wonderful opportunity to build that important relationship with parents before the children start school and to also model those early learning skills, those early numeracy skills and early literacy skills.”
The $1,000 associated with the award will be used for educational tools.
There are currently 53 students enrolled in kindergarten at Elm Street.