A crowd of about a dozen parents attended the Board of Education meeting Thursday, Feb. 7, and many spoke out against the full-day kindergarten proposal, sometimes emotionally. There were also two mothers who spoke in favor of the plan. The board also heard from teachers in favor of a full day for the district’s youngest learners.
The kindergarten proposal was only one of several items on the agenda, but it was the item that garnered the most discussion. There was also a lengthy presentation that may now be viewed on the school district website, wilton.k12.ct.us
Marissa Lowthert was the first to speak during the first public comment period and said she believed the savings that would be incurred were overstated. “The administration has admitted no long-standing benefits,” she said. “Shouldn’t we invest our education dollars in something that produces results?”
Katie Cunningham, who has a doctorate in instruction and is a professor in the school of education at Manhattanville College, said full-day kindergarten would be an “irreversible mistake … more hours and overcrowded classes is not a solution.” With their school day ending at 3:20, Ms. Cunningham said, young children would be worn out from a full day, and participating in after-school activities would be unlikely.
“I urge you to choose energetic over overtired emotional drones,” she said.
Rebecca Wayland praised the small-group literacy program now in place in extended-day kindergarten, in which the students attend two half-days and two full-days.
“We want a quality program here. Please choose quality of education over quantity of education,” she said.
Steve Francia, who acknowledged having gone through the Wilton schools himself, now has four children, some of whom have attended the extended-day program. “Our children, really, are active children,” he said. “On the long day, they were exhausted and didn’t have energy to do anything else. They benefited from that small group instruction,” he said, referring to the afternoon reading program that has about 10 children in each class.
“For the sake of the children, not the parents, please reject this proposal. Let the children be children. Let them have the attention they need. Let them grow into being children.”
Cheryl Jensen-Gerner, Miller-Driscoll principal, gave a presentation to the board that focused on a sample schedule the children would follow under full-day kindergarten. She was joined by three kindergarten teachers — Noreen Corcoran, Cindy Lyons and Maryann Mougin, who is also team leader — assistant principals Sheelah Brown and Leslie Pearson, and Susan Schroeder, a reading teacher and language arts instructional leader.
Under a full-day program, students would be in school from 9:05 until 3:20. Their day would begin with a 25-minute morning meeting that was described as a time to build a sense of community within the classroom and focus on social interaction.
This would be followed by an hour devoted to literacy. It could be shared reading, guided reading, independent reading, or other reading-based activities, Ms. Jensen-Gerner said.
Twenty minutes, from 10:30 to 10:50, would be set aside for snack and recess, according to the schedule.
Students would return for 45 minutes of math instruction.
The next 25-minute module would vary between three days of social studies and science, and two days of journals/interactive writing.
Students would be dismissed for a 20-minute lunch period at noon, followed by a 20-minute recess. The afternoon session would begin at 12:40 with “read aloud/rest.”
The Fundations program, which includes phonics, handwriting and word work, is slotted for 25 minutes at 1, to be followed by a half-hour writing workshop with the assistance of a paraprofessional.
Specials — gym, art, music — are scheduled for 40 minutes in the afternoon, followed by the final 45 minutes of “Structured Play/Centers/Extension.”
The subject areas with the greatest increase in time are literacy, math, social studies/science, and writing.
The presentation also included information on reading benchmarks and student achievements. Currently, 79% of students entering first grade this past fall were reading at the benchmark level. However, newer, higher benchmarks would mean only 62% of students entering first grade would meet the mark.
The teachers agreed the extended-day program creates anxiety in children when they are not sure if they are staying all day or not. It also prevents them from building friendships. Longer days would help them bond, they said.
Although one teacher said teaching reading and writing in the afternoon, as they do now, is difficult because the children are tired, her colleague, Ms. Corcoran, who has taught full-day in another school, said the children build stamina.
“Everything is taught in a developmentally appropriate way,” Ms. Jensen-Gerner said. “The students are not going to be sitting at their desks all day.”
Board member Lory Rothstein asked about the use of paraprofessionals. Ms. Jensen-Gerner said there would be seven full-time paraprofessionals who would work with students on reading. There would also be a science paraprofessional and a reading/library paraprofessional.
Board Chairman Bruce Likly asked about the physical effects the program would have on children.
“In my experience, for the first three weeks most will ask, ‘Are we going to nap?’” Ms. Corcoran said. “They do build stamina. By the sixth week, I don’t get asked again. The structured play builds stamina and social connection. They rise above it.”
Ms. Rothstein asked, given that some children will still be 4 years old when the school year begins, whether it would make any sense to ease into the program, starting with half-days and then moving to full?
Ms. Corcoran said, “It’s best to start from day one.”
The meeting concluded with more comment.
One parent spoke in favor of the program, saying it made the transition to first grade easier. “The kids will feel more a part of the school,” she said.
Another parent said he thought full-day would be beneficial to the children.
Tara Snow brought up the issue of the cutoff date for starting school being Dec. 31, and suggested more than a few parents would be asking if they should hold back their 4-year-olds. “Are the preschools ready to accommodate those kids? Where are these additional kids going to go to school?” she asked.
One mother in support of the full-day program said her 3-year-old needed two weeks of adjustment to preschool but now “she’s thriving. I’ve seen big changes in her. Five-year-olds are more than capable of handling this.” She added that her daughter is autistic and goes to school from 9 to 3:15. “I’m pretty sure a child can handle it.”
Ms. Cunningham, who is a literacy consultant, said that “looking at the schedule, an hour of reading instruction at the kindergarten level is wildly inappropriate. You would have to be a magician to make that work. … Struggling readers will not get enough focus.” She added that a child’s day does not end at 3:20; there is still the bus ride home.
The Board of Education expects to vote on the matter at its next regular meeting on Thursday, March 7.