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Merrimack Valley School District starts school year with full-day kindergarten

  • Alyssa Terkow, a first year kindergarten teacher, gets her room ready for students last week at Loudon Elementary School.

    Alyssa Terkow, a first year kindergarten teacher, gets her room ready for students last week at Loudon Elementary School.

  • Jena Libolsi sets up her room for kindergarten at Loudon Elementary School last week. The room was the former teacher's lounge but was converted for the additional classroom.<br/><br/>{(GEOFF FORESTER/Monitor staff)}

    Jena Libolsi sets up her room for kindergarten at Loudon Elementary School last week. The room was the former teacher's lounge but was converted for the additional classroom.

    {(GEOFF FORESTER/Monitor staff)}

  • Alyssa Terkow, a first year kindergarten teacher, gets her room ready for students last week at Loudon Elementary School.
  • Jena Libolsi sets up her room for kindergarten at Loudon Elementary School last week. The room was the former teacher's lounge but was converted for the additional classroom.<br/><br/>{(GEOFF FORESTER/Monitor staff)}

For the first time in Merrimack Valley School District’s history, its five elementary schools today will welcome full-day kindergarten students.

It marks a significant programming change for a district that has offered half-day kindergarten since the 1980s. The 2½-hour day will be replaced with a 6½-hour day that teachers said will include more time for learning and social development for students.

Voters at the district meeting in March approved a full-day plan with a $194,310 first-year price tag, after defeating an effort to cut money for the program. The vote came after a task force in 2013 recommended the switch at elementary schools in Boscawen, Loudon, Penacook, Webster and Salisbury.

Merrimack Valley joins Hopkinton in rolling out new or expanded full-day kindergarten. After running a two-year pilot program, Hopkinton will expand full-day kindergarten to all students this year, in a move that mirrors a continuing shift statewide.

“With the half day, there just isn’t enough time do to everything you need to do,” said Merrimack Valley Assistant Superintendent Christine Barry.

The full-day model has more time for inquiry-based instruction, which requires students to pose questions or problems instead of simply accepting established facts. The new schedule also has more room for social growth, she said. “You have more time for teachers to get to know the individual and practice social and emotional skills,” Barry said.

To accommodate the move, the district’s

kindergarten staff has doubled to include 11 teachers. “You had two sessions, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, with one teacher doing both sessions. Now, you need two teachers. It’s not an increased enrollment, but it’s because the students are there for the entire day,” Barry said.

The additional 5½ positions cost the district $332,750, which was offset by $145,440 in savings from eliminating mid-day transportation for half-day students.

More kindergarten sections means smaller class sizes. The district expects to have between 13 and 19 students in a classroom, within preferred guidelines of a 20-student maximum.

“With the two sessions, teachers could have up to 40 students. When teachers have fewer students they get to know them better,” Barry said.

The academic year will include 1,080 hours of instruction, compared with 450 hours in previous years. The extra time has teachers feeling energized.

“I think one of the biggest things is knowing you have more time, and that you don’t need to rush through,” said Linny Jenks, who has taught kindergarten at Loudon Elementary School for 11 years. “I think you can get into more depth than before. You have more time for teaching, more time to be creative.”

After more than a decade of teaching two sessions and between 30 and 39 students a day, Jenks said she is looking forward to the switch. Last year, Jenks was the only kindergarten teacher, but the school has added two more.

“It’s just wonderful, because now the time I’m going to spend on literacy alone is what I would spend on an entire school day before,” Jenks said.

Administrators and teachers created a schedule that begins at 9 a.m. and has an 11:30 a.m. lunch, followed by recess. Teachers are planning reading or quiet time after recess as students adjust to the longer day. “I think it’s going to give students more time to practice and apply the skills,” said Jena Livolsi, who will begin her first year as a kindergarten teacher after two years in first grade. “In the half-day program you teach it, and there isn’t enough time to practice and follow up.”

Mornings will include mostly instruction time, while afternoons will be used for lesson implementation and social skills work.

“They may not be able to take in any more information in the afternoon, but they can practice and apply and have that social piece in the afternoon,” Livolsi said.

Now, kindergarten students can go to assemblies, take field trips and be more connected to the larger school community, teachers said.

Full-day kindergarten is the fulfillment of a long-term goal for the district. Discussions about switching started in 2008, and the push was renewed last summer as administrators reviewed new Common Core education standards.

“This was a huge undertaking that involved teachers in every building and all of the administrators,” said Loudon Elementary School Principal Catherine Masterson. “The parents really were the ones who came forward and pushed for this. It’s been a goal for the school board for a while; the parental support pushed it through.”

(Iain Wilson can be reached at 369-3313 or iwilson@cmonitor.com or on Twitter@iainwilsoncm.)

Legacy Comments4

Very expensive babysitters.

WW ignores the fact that early childhood education - the earlier the better - is vital for later achievement.

Kindergarten age children are too young to spend the whole day at school. What school do you teach at?

"Kindergarten age children are too young to spend the whole day at school. What school do you teach at?" Your statement is nonsense. They are no more too young for all-day school than they are for all-day daycare. What school do YOU teach at?

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