Kindergarten Summer Start programs help prepare youngest learners for school


The program focuses on academic and social readiness, for incoming kindergarten students, especially those with little to no prior preschool experience.

By Alyssa Francesca Salcedo

​The Kindergarten Summer Start program, now in its third year, was launched by the Hawai‘i State Department of Education (HIDOE) to give free specialized support to young learners, and is finding success and support among schools and families. 

Over the course of three weeks, the program focuses on academic and social readiness, for incoming kindergarten students, especially those with little to no prior preschool experience. The classrooms and activities are meant to simulate kindergarten environments and provide opportunities for keiki to foster a sense of routine, independence, and confidence. Language arts concepts that are typically taught include letters and sight words, while math concepts often involve distinguishing between numbers from 1-10.

Kalihi Uka Elementary is one of over 80 schools statewide that participate in this program. Eighteen students are enrolled in the program this year and are supported by two kindergarten teachers, one special education teacher, and one educational assistant. 

The program “greatly benefits the kids because it gives them a taste of what the year is going to be, like the expectations that they’re going to be held to, the different things that they’re going to be doing,” Kalihi Uka Elementary Principal Derek Santos said, adding that it also allows students to foster relationships with their future teachers. 

The success of the program is further reflected in how kindergarteners flourish in the upcoming school year. At Kalihi Uka, Santos credits the program for noticeable growth and “a smooth, easy transition” for the students.

At Ali‘iolani Elementary, teachers Lily Gong and Shanna Nakamura-Heaton work collaboratively in their summer start classroom, which consists of 14 students. During the regular school year, Gong works as a special education teacher for preschoolers, while Nakamura-Heaton is a kindergarten teacher. 

Their classroom and its routines are modeled after a kindergarten classroom to introduce school through a smaller setting. This also allows young learners to become accustomed to routines and expectations while meeting and making friends with other students. 

Photo by Hidemi Hano

This isn’t to say that the kids didn’t experience some challenges at the beginning, however.

Gong notes that “some of the kids had a hard time to separate with their parents in the morning, but now they all come with a smile and ready.”

Some of the programs extend their reach to involve parents in their child’s learning. For example, during the last week of instruction at Ali‘iolani, Gong and Nakamura-Heaton hosted a parent-student activity where families worked together to make ice cream. “It was good for the parents to get to come in,” Nakamura-Heaton said. “They got to see and model for them how they can practice with their kids at home during the rest of the summer to help them stay prepared.” 

Gong added that the opportunity allowed parents to observe their child doing things independently.

Grandmother Dorothy Pregil first learned of the program through her granddaughter’s preschool program at Kalihi Uka and said that her granddaughter has gained more confidence through the program.

“As a little girl, she’s very intimidated, but she picked English up really fast, so she verbally loves to talk now,” Pregil said, adding that her granddaughter is indeed learning. “They’re doing the scissors now. … They’re learning motor skills and different ways of thinking.”

A total of approximately 2,250 students were enrolled in HIDOE’s kindergarten start summer program this past summer. Given the learning gap that many students face stemming from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is critical that young learners be equipped with the tools and resources to succeed in the classroom and beyond. Easing the transition from home to the classroom for the state’s youngest learners benefits participating students and their peers. 

For more information or questions about the kindergarten summer start program, please contact your child’s elementary school. The program’s start and end dates and times may vary by school.


Alyssa Francesca Salcedo is a summer intern with HIDOE's Communications Branch. She graduated from Waipahu High School with the class of 2023 and is planning to major in journalism at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. 

Hidemi Hano is a summer intern with HIDOE's Communications Branch. She graduated from Farrington High School with the class of 2023 and is planning to attend Kapi‘olani Community College as a new media arts major to become an animation and interface designer.


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