Andover joins districts with full-day kindergarten
As schools across New Hampshire transition to the Common Core State Standards, educators are finding their students may be behind the curve right from the beginning: The standards call for 1,080 hours of instruction each year, but half-day kindergarten only provides 540.
“I think the conversation should start to move to, ‘Kindergarten is a grade level,’ ” said Patty Ewen, early childhood education specialist for the New Hampshire Department of Education. “No one’s discussing whether or not the children should be in fifth grade (for a) half-day.”
Voters in Andover agree. At last week’s annual school district meeting, they approved a warrant article to adopt full-day kindergarten by a vote of 113-37, joining about 35 percent of the state’s school districts.
“We’re just absolutely thrilled that the town supported this; I think we’re still flying high from last week,” said Jane Slayton, principal at Andover Elementary/Middle School.
The school first tried to implement full-day kindergarten about five years ago, when the size of the incoming class would have made both half-day classes very small, but the measure didn’t move forward at that time. Last fall, Slayton and a small committee formed to push the initiative forward again, a move prompted in part by the Common Core, a new framework of more rigorous educational standards adopted by most states. The committee contacted local preschools and sought community support for the program. This time around, both the school board and voters approved it.
The Common Core will bring with it new tests that will begin in 2015 to replace the New England Common Assessment Program. The standards expect a deeper understanding of math topics and a greater ability to analyze and understand informational and fictional texts. The foundation for the standards begins in kindergarten, and having kids in the classroom all day gives teachers more time to prepare them for what’s ahead.
“We felt like we were going to be playing catch-up in first grade, and you never really do catch up,” Slayton said.
In 2010, New Hampshire districts had to begin offering half-day kindergarten programs, but enrollment isn’t mandatory. In just the past three years, the number of schools offering full-day kindergarten has increased by 35 percent, Ewen said.
In some communities, expanding the program may be too costly.
“You can’t feel bad about what you can’t afford,” Ewen said. Many districts have to make tough decisions about discretionary programs to keep taxpayers happy. “Anything that’s not a mandate does become negotiable.”
In Andover, which has 28 kindergartners this year, the school board asked voters for an additional $64,428, the cost of one new teacher. The school will find other ways to absorb additional costs that will come from new materials, classroom furniture and other supplies, Slayton said. The town’s budget committee did not recommend passing the article for cost reasons.
“We just thought that with the economy the way it was that they should have put it off another year,” said Jim Delaney, a committee member.
Kindergarten teacher Laura Witt is happy with the town’s decision. She previously taught full-day kindergarten in Florida, and said with a half day, the students are rushed through lessons. With a full day, they’ll have more time for each lesson and won’t have to transition as frequently. Under the Common Core, students will be expected to distinguish meaning among certain verbs, analyze and compare shapes and solve simple word problems, in addition to basics like recognizing and writing letters and numbers.
“I think it’s better for them,” Witt said. “The half-day program’s really hurried. We’re bouncing around from one subject area to the next and we only have a short amount of time.”
The students will have a break in the middle of the day for resting or activities such as story time.
Many kindergartners come straight from all-day preschool programs or go to afternoon care programs. Full-day kindergarten will better prepare students for the rigors of first grade, said Judith Turk, assistant principal and special education director. In addition, spending more time with students will help teachers identify those who need extra help and those who need enrichment earlier.
“It’s really going to serve our early intervention purposes as far as channeling in on challenges early (and) being able to determine from the beginning what extra support they will need,” she said.
Michelle Dudek, a school board member, has one son in kindergarten this year and another who will start next year. A full day of school will enrich kindergartners’ educational experience and allow them to dip into other topics such as science and social studies, she said. As a parent and school board member, she was fully supportive of the initiative.
“I think that early education in general is vital to lasting student success all through their career,” she said.