In the gymnasium of Mineral Springs Elementary School, nearly two dozen rising first-graders take turns dribbling basketballs across the court toward pieces of paper scattered on the floor at the other end.

Each one has a word printed on it the students have to spell aloud as they dribble before they can pick it up, dribble the ball back and hand it off to a friend, who does the same exercise.

It’s not part of summer school, but a summer transition program to help soon-to-be first-grade students in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools improve not only their literacy skills, but also other skills as well before the new school year.

It’s called Pathway to One, and it’s in its first year. It’s modeled closely after Pathway to K, a summer transition program that started for students who did not have any sort of pre-kindergarten educational opportunities or similar experiences to help them better acclimate to the classroom environment.

School officials decided to extend the pathway program to rising first-graders because some in the district still needed that extra boost when it came not only to reading and other core subject skills, but also social-emotional ones and others like it.

Both are funded by Project Impact, a community initiative dedicated to raising funds to help the school system close student achievement gaps and improve third-grade reading and math skills, with a fundraising goal of $45 million.

So far, Project Impact has put $790,015 toward Pathway to K in its first three years. For the first time this year, they have allowed students who were in pre-K who need that extra boost before the school year.

“But the majority of the 160 in the program are children who have never had this, kind of a little formal experience,” said Vanessa Osborne, transition coordinator for the Office of Early Learning, and former Pathway to K director.

For Pathway to One’s first year, $309,000 has been put toward it. There are 80 students enrolled in the program this summer across six schools.

The funding from Project Impact covers all costs associated with running the program, from teachers to classroom materials and everything in between, said Victoria Fulton, program manager for Project Impact.

Students are even provided with breakfast, lunch and snacks at no cost.

“We are so fortunate to have benefactors that care this deeply for our students in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools and giving them this opportunity will give them the success they need going into first grade, or going into kindergarten,” said Elizabeth Noell, Pathway to One director.

Pathway to One does focus on literacy and other core subjects, but the curriculum and schedule includes health and physical education.

Both are 15-day programs that run from Monday through Thursday. There’s about a week and a half left this summer, Osborne said.

Katisha Fonville, a kindergarten teacher at Kimberley Park Elementary School, taught in Pathway to K for its first two years and is teaching in Pathway to One this summer at Mineral Springs Elementary. She’s seen students improve throughout the summer program, and has even had a chance to see it in her own kindergarten classroom the following school year.

“Knowing that they can spell those words, they can identify those high frequency words that they’re going to see, it is going to boost their reading ability because most of the books have those high frequency words …,” she said. “So if they can do these activities like this, this will benefit them in reading and those scores will definitely be boosted.”

The skills these students learn in both Pathway to One and Pathway to K are beneficial as they continue through early childhood grades and begin testing in third grade, Fonville said.

“Because if they get it here, that strong foundation means a lot and it will help them along academically,” she said.

mbragg@wsjournal.com 336-727-7278 @braggmichaelc

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