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'Their little minds are stimulated' | SC's Countdown to Kindergarten program gives students an early start to learning this summer

The state is using more than $950K in federal funding to support the program and create a more successful transition into school.

SOUTH CAROLINA, USA — School is out, but the summer learning continues in South Carolina as part of the Countdown to Kindergarten program. The goal is to teach and connect with some of the youngest learners before the new school year gets underway.

South Carolina First Steps started the initiative back in 2004 to help promote successful transitions into school and emphasize the importance of kindergarten readiness.

RELATED: How to prepare your child for pre-K over the summer

“There wasn’t as much loss of learning because their little minds were stimulated through the summer and put on a learning schedule," Countdown to Kindergarten program coordinator Kim West said.

More than $950,000 from federal funding will be used to support Countdown to Kindergarten and its many activities including the Family Engagement Program. For five weeks throughout the summer, teachers will meet directly at the homes of parents and rising kindergartners who may be most at risk academically.

“We do as much as we can to give them as many resources as possible to load it early instead of wait because we want to be in front of the ball instead of behind it," Lancaster County kindergarten teacher Tammy Medlin said.

The sixth and final visit is at the student's school serving as a springboard to what hopes to be a successful academic year.

“I try to meet them where they’re at and give them what they need because they got to know that I love them before they learn anything from me," Medlin said.

RELATED: SC Department of Education to provide $14.5 million to expand summer, after-school learning to address COVID-19 losses

Data from last year projected nearly 70% of South Carolina third- through eighth-grade students would not meet grade level proficiency in English, language arts, and math.

But despite the setbacks from COVID-19, program leaders believe the success of Countdown to Kindergarten has the potential to make all the difference. Stephanie Perez-Sanchez completed the program many years ago and last year graduated as valedictorian at Lancaster High School before moving on to attend Duke University.

“Throughout the summer I was able to prepare for school and overcome any nerves I may have had beginning kindergarten," Perez-Sanchez said. "I truly believe this program was a great start to my education.”

Contact Briana Harper at bharper@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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