PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — It was a positive first day of school for a group of kindergartners in the Hill District as community members welcomed them into A. Leo Weil Elementary School with a celebration to help ease the transition into the classroom.

It was part of a collaborative effort between the school, community and the University of Pittsburgh to make both the youngsters and their parents comfortable with the start of this new chapter in their lives.

But getting parents to enroll their children in kindergarten was the first challenge.

Kindergarten is not legally required in Pennsylvania, so the University of Pittsburgh has started community efforts like this to increase enrollment and make sure kids are in the classroom by the first day of school.

Ken Smythe-Leistico with Pitt’s Office of Child Development says it’s working. “Now a school that had 12 to 15 kids coming the first day prior, has 54 kids attending today.”

Some studies show that by starting their education with kindergarten, kids will be more likely to get their diploma.

“There’s stats that show if you miss a certain number of days in kindergarten, you’re much less likely to even graduate,” Smythe-Leistico added.

Studies have also shown kids do better in school if they’ve gone to kindergarten.

The University of Pittsburgh Office of Child Development says another challenge in neighborhoods like the Hill District is making parents aware that kindergartens exist in their community.

But by reaching out to families, more parents are now enrolling prior to the start of the school year.

“That door to door outreach matters a lot,” Pittsburgh School Superintendent Dr. Linda Lane explained.

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Heather Abraham