Conversation gets rolling on full-day kindergarten in Concord

Last modified: 12/5/2015 12:42:54 AM
Before a steering committee meets for the first time next week, Concord mother Maria Lucia Natkiel wanted to get the conversation going on potentially implementing full-day kindergarten. So, she created a survey.

“I was curious if the consensus in the community was for full-day kindergarten, and why,” she said Wednesday.

Natkiel, who is 38 and has two sons ages 3 and 6, was inspired by Concord School Board meetings this fall, where a number of people expressed strong opinions on the topic. After almost two weeks of circulating her eight-question online survey and garnering over 200 responses, Natkiel said there’s a clear pattern: 91.6 percent support full-day kindergarten, while only 4.9 percent do not and 3.5 percent are undecided.

The survey, Natkiel admits, might be a little skewed, as mostly moms with kindergarten-age children responded.

“I’m no expert by any stretch of the imagination,” she said. “What I wanted was general information.”

What she got from 203 respondents (as of Friday) was this:

∎ 44 percent said a full-day kindergarten program would influence their decision to stay in or move to Concord, 19 percent said they would re-enter the workforce, 47 percent said it wouldn’t factor into any decisions.

∎ 57 percent would pay more in property taxes while 18 percent said they would not, and 25 percent were undecided.

Natkiel’s survey will stay open until Tuesday. Of the people who responded:

∎ 67 percent were aged 18 to 40.

∎ 49 percent have children who will be going into kindergarten (and 12 percent don’t have children).

More research will come over the next five months, according to Concord School District Superintendent Terri Forsten.

The newly formed Early Childhood Education Committee facilitated by Forsten with Assistant Superintendent Donna Palley will begin monthly meetings Wednesday at 6 p.m. in the district’s central office.

“The committee will be offering information to the board,” Forsten said Thursday, “and considering the impact across the district.”

This is not the first time the issue of full-day versus half-day kindergarten programs has come up in Concord. Last time, it was brought to the table just before the school district constructed its three new elementary schools and consolidated from eight schools to five in 2012.

At the time, Forsten said, “There was a sense of, while it might be a good idea, there were things that might have a greater impact.”

Kindergarten now

On Friday morning, Sarah Williams taught her first of two 2.5-hour kindergarten classes at Mill Brook School. Her classroom is one of three at the school.

“All right boys and girls,” she told her group of a dozen or so children, “let’s start tracing those twos.”

She helped her students draw numbers, make letters from Play-Doh, build paper chains, read books with a soundtrack to follow along, and counted dots on a dice. Then it was time for a mid-morning snack of apples and carrots, she lined them up to watch a short movie about gingerbread, and asked one misbehaving student to sit in a quiet chair for a few moments. Williams said the 2.5-hour sessions can be challenging.

“It’s hard because we have so much that we want to teach them, and two and a half hours doesn’t allow us to teach everything we want to teach them, be social and play,” Williams said.

The last two items – social interactions and play – are at odds with making sure children learn how to count, add and subtract one through 10, learn letters and get to the appropriate reading level.

A shorter class period keeps children from practicing their newly acquired knowledge and skills, Williams said. Transitions – moving from one activity to another after 10 or 15 minutes – are tough, too.

“When they’re engaged and settled and they have to stop and clean it up – it’s definitely tricky for them,” Williams said. Most kids also go to different programs at places like the YMCA and Boys & Girls Club before or after kindergarten, and all of it, said Williams, is tough for parents and kids.

When asked if parents ever came to her about these issues, Williams responded, “Oh, yeah.”

Considerations

Natkiel said she worked part-time and was able to drop off and pick up her 6-year-old son, Paul, for half-day kindergarten at Christa McAuliffe School last year, but it was still difficult.

“It just seemed very limited,” she said. “Just after dropping him off, I was turning around and picking him up.”

Whether a full-day program is the solution to these issues, however, isn’t clear.

“I’m still on the fence,” said Williams, who’s been teaching in Concord for 14 years. “Because developmentally, their attention spans, to be here all day,” is asking a lot.

Natkiel said she thinks there are a number of reasons a longer kindergarten program would be better for both kids and parents.

For kids, she said, consistency gained through staying a whole day in a classroom can reduce stress and improve development.

“It provides continuity in a child’s day,” Natkiel said. Plus, she said, “Concord has fantastic schools, which is why I moved here” from New York City.

For parents, she said, the current two-and-a-half-hour kindergarten classes create a logistical burden. It’s difficult, Natkiel said, to choose between paying for private schools or daycare and not working full-time. On Wednesday, she sat at home with 3-year-old Marco, supervising him as he played with Play-Doh and trains.

“I think it puts a huge weight on families that isn’t necessary,” Natkiel said, adding that recent changes in her life are forcing her to get a full-time job. Even if it wasn’t necessary in her case, she said, she wants to go back to work anyway.

“We are more than mothers,” she said. “I’ve always been someone who’s had several jobs at a time. I’m not alone in that.”

Money is a concern on the other side of this argument – Concord School Board president Clint Cogswell has said in previous meetings that full-day kindergarten could add an estimated 3 percent to the Concord tax base.

Mill Brook School principal Phil Callanan, who is on the Early Childhood Education Committee, said space and programming are other things to think about. Mill Brook School, for instance, would need three extra classrooms and more staff.

“There are contracted items with the Concord Education Association,” too, said Callanan, like built-in planning periods for full-day teachers.

He added, “We want to make sure we get all of those on the table so we don’t miss anything.”

At this point, the issue is wide open and ready for discussion beginning on Wednesday.

Natkiel, as evidenced by her survey, is mainly interested in getting more information and feedback about the topic, too.

“I think that’s all important going into making this happen,” she said. Looking at Marco, who has another year and a half in preschool, she added, “It’d be nice to have it by the time he’s in kindergarten.”



(Elodie Reed can be reached at 369-3306, ereed@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @elodie_reed.)




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