United Way helps kids say ‘yay’ to first day of school

United Way of York County’s early education initiatives made sure that students, families, and schools had the tools they needed to succeed, despite the interruption of COVID-19.

Written by: Rebecca Hanlon
Story paid for by: United Way of York County
Josie and Vivienne Krebs have both gone through United Way’s kindergarten transition program, Ready Freddy, giving them a jump start on their education. (Submitted photo)

Sabrina Krebs cried as she watched her oldest daughter Josie get on the school bus a few years ago for her first day of kindergarten. Josie was ready to start school, even if Mom wasn’t quite ready to let go.

This year, her other daughter, Vivienne, started kindergarten during the COVID-19 pandemic, adding a new set of concerns for the West Manheim Township parent.

“I just think no matter how kids are going back to school, there’s always the nerves,” says Julie Myers, a program associate for FOCUS, an early education initiative of United Way of York County.

For more than a decade, thousands of children including Josie and Vivienne have gone through United Way’s kindergarten transition program, Ready Freddy, giving them a jump start on their education.

Sabrina saw how the program built a sense of confidence in Josie and set her up to tackle elementary school from the first day. Thanks to a digital version of the Ready Freddy program offered this year through five school districts and Martin Library, Vivienne, too, was ready for kindergarten when the time came.

While this year's Ready Freddy program couldn't be done in person like it has in the past, it still provided high quality instruction to more than 340 families. (Submitted photo)

New learning models

When the pandemic hit the region, United Way of York County staff knew they had to adjust Ready Freddy if they wanted to provide the same, high quality program to families.

Instead of meeting in person over a series of weeks like it had in the past, the program sent students packets in early July with books and activities for the following five weeks. More than 340 families participated.

Once a week, they watched a virtual storytime with one of several frog-themed books that were included in their packet. A craft accompanied each story and guided the students through kindergarten skills like following instructions and using scissors.

“It really helped set the mindset that school is starting soon,” Sabrina says. “And it mimicked a lot of the ways school will look different this year. Our girls are doing a mix of virtual and in-person learning, and this was a nice sample of things to come.”

While resources like Ready Freddy are funded by the generous support of donors who give to the United Way Community Fund, United Way’s impact on children during the pandemic has gone well beyond its kindergarten readiness program.

Earlier this year, United Way distributed more than 7,700 books to local school districts, including Spring Grove, Central York, and Red Lion. (Submitted photos)

Getting books to students

When York County school districts handed out bagged lunches to students at the start of the COVID-19 shutdown, they also sent home books.

More than 7,700 books were given to schools in April and May as part of United Way’s continued efforts to place books into the hands of children who need them and ensure York County’s youngest residents are set up for success.

“Reading has so many benefits for young children, and we know that if we start reading to them as soon as birth, they’ll be on a much better road to succeed in school and life,” Julie says.

A publisher that was going out of business called United Way of York County to see if it could use unsold books sitting in a warehouse. WellSpan Health later reached out when its annual Book Nook Bonanza fundraiser was canceled.

“Parents were so excited to receive new books for their toddlers,” says Libby Stambaugh, Supervising Elementary Principal at Red Lion Area School District. “They said that the new books would keep the little ones content while the parents helped the older children with schoolwork.”

Vivienne Krebs drew this self portrait as part of the Ready Freddy program. (Submitted photo)

A plan for success

As Sabrina’s girls head back to school, even with a hybrid schedule, there’s a sense of normalcy returning to their routine.

Fortunately, learning online isn’t brand new for her kindergartner, and they’ve worked through the early kinks of logging into a virtual classroom.

It might not be the education she imagined for her daughters, but she knows they’re ready for the challenge.

“We all miss some aspects of the way things were before,” she says. “But I know we’re going to get through this, and we have a community that wants to make sure that happens.”

Paid for by United Way of York County

800 E. King St., York, PA 17403

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