Prekindergarten (pre-K) Family Engagement Specialists Karen Kagel and Tonya Evans wanted to find a new way to connect with families and share resources outside of a school setting.
On Oct. 10, they welcomed more than 100 prekindergarten parents and guardians to the first-ever “Chew and Chat.” Kagel and Evans plan to host a new Chew and Chat monthly, alternating between breakfast and lunch, while also hosting evening “Discovery Nights” for both parents and their prekindergarten children.
“We want to keep this informal. We would love for these monthly meetings just to be a great way to network with our partners and with our parents and with our staff,” Kagel told the group.
Parents and a few young siblings enjoyed a light breakfast while Kagel and Evans discussed the theme for the Chew and Chat – literacy – and introduced the community partners they invited to share resources and information.
Karen Schell from Virginia Beach Public Libraries shared information about obtaining public library cards, noting they delivered almost 300 cards last year to families with children in the division’s pre-K program.
“We’re happy to do that again this year,” said Schell. “We have library applications here today. I’d love for all your kids to have library cards.”
Marian Atterberry, from the Barnes and Noble located on Virginia Beach Boulevard, and Barb Lito, from Virginia Beach GrowSmart, also were there to “chat” with parents about programs and resources they have for young learners.
“We’re very excited about these partnerships,” Evans told parents, “and you will hear that word a lot today ‘partnership’ and ‘team.’ That’s what this is all about. From the time your child is in pre-K to the time they graduate, you are a partner or a team with the school.”
The parents present were eager to be partners and to learn more about what their children are learning in school and how they can support them at home.
“We’re working on letter recognition,” Kagel replied. “They are learning a letter a week and we’re also introducing what’s called an ‘alphabet soup letter,’ which is another letter they will revisit. So, let’s say they start with the letter A and we might introduce the letter L with it because ‘leaves’ starts with the letter L and we’re focusing on fall. Then we’ll come back and revisit the letter L later in the year.”
Kagel also noted that students are learning emergent reader skills like turning the pages and being able to follow left to right. They are learning to identify the letters in their names as well as writing their names. In math, she told parents, students are working on numbers one through 10, counting objects and practicing on patterning.
To reinforce emergent reader skills at home, each parent at the Chew and Chat received a copy of a book from the “We Both Read” series that focuses on alphabet recognition. All pre-K students will receive a new book each grading period to help build their home libraries.
“It is designed to be interactive. The parents will read one side of the book, the left side, and the child will read the right side,” explained Kagel. “You might be saying, ‘My child can’t read,’ but they can find letters. What we are encouraging you to do is to have your child hold the book properly, turn the pages, go left to right and then really just having that special time together. These books are perfect for that. If your child has older siblings, they can read it with them.”
“And we encourage the kids to read it over and over and over again,” Kagel added.
Pre-K field trips were also highlighted: visiting Hunt Club Farm in October, seeing a musical performance at the Sandler Center in February and touring the Norfolk Zoo in May. Each trip relates to instructional lessons back at school.
“It’s going to be an exciting, busy year,” Kagel told the crowd.
A pre-K newsletter sent home with students will include more information about instructional resources, classroom lessons and upcoming events, added Kagel before closing the event with a raffle of prizes and letting parents talk with community partners and each other.
“Chew and Chat is solely for sharing information and being here in a comfortable setting so they can talk with us if they have any concerns,” said Kagel after the event. “If there is anything we can do, we can get them the resources. We’re here. They can catch our ear and we can help.”
The next pre-K Chew and Chat is scheduled for Nov. 28, at noon at the school division’s Plaza Annex. Parents will receive RSVP information from their child’s teacher as well as a schedule for the first Discovery Night held in November on various dates at select pre-K school sites.
For more information about the Chew and Chat series or other upcoming pre-K events, parents may contact Kagel or Evans by calling the Department of Teaching and Learning at 757-263-1070.