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00000176-e6f7-dce8-adff-f6f7707e000090.5 WESA's Life of Learning series focuses on learning and education activities, opportunities and challenges in the Greater Pittsburgh area.This multi-year commitment to providing learning-focused news coverage in southwestern Pennsylvania is made possible by a generous grant from the Grable Foundation.

Friendly Frogs Help Pittsburgh Kick Off Kindergarten

University of Pittsburgh Office of Child Development

  Twenty Pittsburgh Public Schools welcomed hordes of excited and apprehensive kindergartners on Thursday with Freddy the Frog, a green frog mascot representing the district's readiness program.

“We make a big celebration for the kindergarten children coming in for the first time and for their parents,” said Carole Barone-Martin, Pittsburgh Public's executive director of early childhood education.

“It will be primarily people cheering the children on, welcoming them and giving the parents a hug,” she said.

Principals talked to students and parents before they kicked off the day, she said. Freddy joined that back-to-school routine in 2008 when the district teamed up with the University of Pittsburgh’s Office of Child Development and its Ready Freddy Pathways to Kindergarten Success program. Designed to boost enrollment, the program helps soften the transition from home or pre-school into kindergarten and puts a big emphasis on coming to school everyday.

Aisha White, director of the pathways program, said poor attendance in kindergarten has been linked to low achievement in reading, math and general knowledge at the end of first grade.

“The emphasis on academic skills and the need to interact with a wide range of children are the most difficult changes for children to manage,” White said.

According to Barone-Martin, they focus on early registration to get children enrolled on-time, because “it helps the schools to be able to plan; it helps families to be able to talk to their children about what’s coming up with kindergarten.”

Prior to Ready Freddy, on-time enrollment citywide was low. Some schools prepared for as few as 12 students. For the 2014-15 school year, 2,077 Pittsburgh children attended kindergarten.

Staff helped parents navigate the enrollment process, formed summer kindergarten clubs to prepare children and arranged early classroom tours for kids.

Thursday’s big welcome was intended to show little ones that school is fun, Barone-Martin said.

“Excitement about school is probably more important than anything else,” she said. “We just want to spread that and make a fun event that will make everyone feel happy to be there.”