BAMBERG, Germany - Children from BambergAca,!a,,cs Strong Beginnings program took to the stage June 17 to celebrate a year of integrated learning and elementary school preparation. Children showcased the knowledge they acquired in the 2009/2010 session to the audience, emphasizing the language, group-work and social etiquette skills ascertained during the year.

Aca,!A"ItAca,!a,,cs a lower level of kindergarten because our concentration is not academic, itAca,!a,,cs a social setting,Aca,!A? said Adriana Bonilla, the program associate. Aca,!A"ItAca,!a,,cs the understanding that when you go to kindergarten, weAca,!a,,cre not here to play; weAca,!a,,cre here to learnAca,!A|This is what weAca,!a,,cre preparing them for.Aca,!A?

Strong Beginnings is an instructional program meant to ease childrenAca,!a,,cs transition from pre-school to kindergarten by implementing the structure of a kindergarten classroom and introducing the social and disciplinary atmosphere of an elementary-school system. Parents can enroll children in either the morning or afternoon section.

Bonilla has directed the Bamberg program since its trial run as a pilot site last year. The success of the pilot bolstered the ArmyAca,!a,,cs decision to run September-June programs this year. The Bamberg program will continue on into the summer months, incorporating a number of outdoor activities and field trips.

Bonilla said the transition from the pilot program to this yearAca,!a,,cs full year program allowed her to develop many of the focus subjects, including social studies, science and language, with the children.

Aca,!A"There was a lot more coverage,Aca,!A? she said. Aca,!A"We got to concentrate more this year because we had the whole year. We went from basic shapes to colors, from letters to sounds, to addition toward the end.Aca,!A?

To further simulate a kindergarten environment, Bonilla implemented different themes each month to guide and focus the daily lessons. The students were further exposed to their environment through field trips on the local economy.

On one trip, children visited a local bakery to learn the basics of bread-making. Each child was given Ac'A!1 and encouraged to order a baked item in German. Students also went to a local dairy farm, where they learned about cows and milk. Bonilla plans to increase the number of trips and outdoor experiments in the summer months.

Army spouse Jamie Anderson has three children, two of whom have gone through the program in Bamberg. Her older daughter, Ciara, completed the pilot program last year before entering kindergarten at Bamberg Elementary School. Her daughter Olivia was enrolled in the most recent session.

Anderson initially enrolled Ciara when the program was introduced to parents with children in the preschool on post. She immediately saw positive results.

Aca,!A"It was automatic,Aca,!A? she said. Aca,!A"Her social skills (really improved). She picked up all kinds of stuff education-wise. It was an automatic given that Olivia was coming because I was so impressed with Mrs. Bonilla.Aca,!A?

Anderson watched her older daughter enter Bamberg Elementary School with ease last fall after completing the pilot program.

Aca,!A"Ciara was more than ready to go to kindergarten the first day because she knew she had friends and so they all went together,Aca,!A? she said. Aca,!A"It got them all understanding whatAca,!a,,cs going on and how to be in a structured environment. There were no tearful goodbyes. She just went through the door, it was no big deal.Aca,!A?

Anderson wishes the program had developed sooner for her older son to take advantage of it.

Aca,!A"I really think this program is better than other preschool programsAca,!A|even in the civilian world,Aca,!A? she said. Aca,!A"I think they really get more out of it here.Aca,!A?

While the Army provides guidelines and offers materials for the program, Bonilla tailors the classes to meet the needs of the students.

Aca,!A"When I plan, I plan to the level of the children,Aca,!A? she said. Aca,!A"We still stick with the same routine and structure, but if I know that the majority know letters, I can move on to sounds. If I know that they need a little help with patterns, then, weAca,!a,,cll still stick with patterns until theyAca,!a,,cre ready to move on. I work with each individual child. We have different materials that help us document and do that.Aca,!A?

Another addition Bonilla made to the curriculum was a foreign language.

Aca,!A"When they go to school theyAca,!a,,cre going to get another language, so I figure we can start early,Aca,!A? she said.

Liz Mendes taught Spanish as part of the program and acted as BonillaAca,!a,,cs aid.

Functioning on the same timeline as Bamberg Elementary School, Strong Beginnings follows the same break schedule to ensure the children are prepared for their kindergarten year.

The program also held parent-teacher conferences three times this year, in the fall, winter and spring. Bonilla said attendance at the conferences was high and she received positive feedback from parents.

Aca,!A"A lot of parents felt their child was a step ahead when they went to kindergarten,Aca,!A? she said.

Further preparation is available in the summer through Kindergarten Boot Camp, which is open to all children in the community preparing for kindergarten.

Aca,!A"ItAca,!a,,cs just one week of getting back into school mode,Aca,!A? Bonilla said.

Last yearAca,!a,,cs boot camp activities included a tour of the school, an introduction to the cafeteria, a visit to the kindergarten hallways and playground as well as meeting one of the kindergarten teachers.

Bonilla would like to welcome parents who are interested in the program to sit in on a classroom activity or speak with her directly.

Aca,!A"Parents are always welcome to call ahead and come peek at the classroom to have an idea,Aca,!A? she said. Aca,!A"WeAca,!a,,cve had parents sit down and watch how the classroom goes to see if itAca,!a,,cs right for their child.Aca,!A?

Children come away from this program with an understanding of kindergarten etiquette, Bonilla said. They are able to better focus during group time, follow rules and understand that school is for learning.