When kindergartner Jaden Manchanda arrived at Carver Elementary School on Friday morning, there was already a smile on his face. He didn’t seem too worried about saying goodbye to his parents as he exited their car and stepped onto the drop-off curb — after all, a new friend was already waiting for him. Fifth-grader Erica De los Santos approached the car and accepted Jaden’s backpack from his mom before taking the boy’s hand and leading him up the steps to the school. His parents didn’t need to worry about Jaden getting to his classroom, either — under the guidance of Carver’s K-Patrol, they knew he was in good hands.
Now in its fourth year, K-Patrol is a safety program that links 5th-grade volunteers with Carver’s kindergarten and transitional kindergarten students. Each morning as kindergartners are dropped off, 5th-graders in the K-Patrol greet them before escorting them to their classrooms.
It seems simple enough — until you see the route these youngsters have to navigate.
The kindergarten complex at Carver sits on the opposite end of the campus: down a corridor, past the lunch shelter and across the sprawling blacktop — more than a few paces for little legs in unfamiliar territory. To get there, students simply follow the “yellow brick road,” a painted yellow line that guides the way from one side of campus to the other.
By providing 5th-grade guides for its youngest students, Carver spares parents of kindergartners the hassle of parking and ushering their children to class and eases traffic congestion during busy times in the school’s drop-off area. To make things even easier, student volunteers are distinguished by their bright orange “Carver K-Patrol” safety vests — a donation from parent Hal Suetsugu, whose son, Rylan, participates in the program.
According to physical education teacher Yvonne Mejia, K-Patrol was conceived by Principal Liz Hollingsworth, who “needed some support in getting students to move from this area to kindergarten and give parents peace of mind. While our staff [members] already have their assignments, this is a wonderful opportunity for older students to bond with younger students, like a peer community service.”
Mejia supervises K-Patrol along with 5th-grade teacher Stacy Travisano, who oversees Carver’s Student Council program for 4th- and 5th-grade students.
Beyond the opportunity to familiarize new students with the layout of the school, Travisano and Mejia also saw the potential of the program to build older students’ leadership skills.
“We wanted to give them some more jobs and responsibility around campus and we thought. ‘Wow, it’s quite a long jaunt from the steps all the way to the kindergarten wing,’” Travisano said. “We really wanted the older kids to have some responsibility for the younger kids.”
After a group of five kindergartners had accumulated at the top of the front steps of the school, De los Santos and another volunteer, Tessa Mavridis, gathered them together before departing in a single-file convoy across the playground. Like ducklings in a row, the little ones followed Mavridis as De los Santos herded in any stragglers at the rear. As the party arrived, intact, at the gate of the kindergarten playground, the girls checked in with each of their wards before sending them off to class.
“Some of the kids are really calm and they’ll follow what you say, but some of them don’t stop moving around,” said De los Santos.
“They like to talk to their friends a lot so they’re always in different places,” added Mavridis.
While K-Patrol is certainly an exercise in patience, both girls have found the experience to be rewarding and enjoyable. They may be the ones leading, but the 5th-graders said they gain as much from the kindergartners as the kindergartners do from them.
“They’re always really funny, and I like taking care of them,” said Mavridis. “They tell us about what they’re doing, so we’ve learned a lot of things from them.”
“We learn about what entertains them, and that entertains us,” added De los Santos.
Had K-Patrol existed when these students were in kindergarten, it could have spared Mavridis the embarrassment of walking into the wrong classroom on her first day — a mistake she hopes not to repeat when she begins middle school next year. For their last year at Carver, however, the 5th-graders involved with K-Patrol are happy to be making a difference for those who came after them.
“It really makes me feel like I’m doing a good thing for them,” said Gianna Karkafi, one of the other K-Patrol volunteers on duty. “They feel like they’re making new friends, and I feel like it’s making an impact on their kindergarten year. They have a happy start to their day.”