State program ensures children are ready for kindergarten

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Published: Aug. 11, 2022 at 10:29 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 11, 2022 at 11:28 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The South Carolina First Steps agency is concluding its annual summer initiative known as ‘Countdown to Kindergarten.’

S.C. First Steps is both a state agency and 501(c)(3) nonprofit established by the General Assembly in 1999. Then, as now, their mission is to promote successful school transitions while bringing awareness to kindergarten readiness.

“Every year we serve over 30,000 young children and their families directly. We also reach more than 60,000 children by supporting their teachers and care givers and childcare services,” said Beth Moore, Communications Director for S.C. First Steps.

The agency launched Countdown to Kindergarten in 2004 to provide one-on-one support for children at-risk of academic troubles. The agency works with local nonprofits and elementary schools across the state to train elementary teachers as ‘home visitors.’

“That means that [teachers] actually connect with the families of their incoming students during the summer before school. They make five visits to the family’s home, teaching them about kindergarten expectations and the school readiness skills the children will need,” said Moore.

While participating teachers are compensated for their work through Countdown to Kindergarten, they say it is not about the money.

“I feel like when I do this and when I work with these children, I give them a leg-up in their education... if this is something that I can do, then I will always do it for them, to help them academically,” said Julie Zeigler, a kindergarten teacher at Lake Murray Elementary.

S.C. First Steps was reportedly awarded $953,000 in federal grant funding to offer Countdown to Kindergarten across the state this summer. And while the exact numbers of families served is pending, Moore says this year’s outreach is the largest on-record.

“This year we’ve served over 3,000 children directly. We’ve also offered Countdown to Kindergarten events to thousands more,” concluded Moore.

S.C. First Steps recently launched a website including resources and school directories across the state. According to Moore, the best way to get involved with the agency is by visiting the landing page at www.countdownsc.org.

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