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Full Day Kindergarten: Our Vision, Going Forward

A Thriving Kindergarten Classroom at Forestdale

by Marc J. Smith, Principal – Forestdale School

The Sandwich Public Schools has a vision – a vision for an outstanding PreK-12 educational experience that rivals all others.  Included in that vision is an inquiry based approach to teaching and learning which culminates in a project-based, STEM-enhanced, middle and high school experience that prepares our students to successfully enter the world upon graduation.  The teachers, administrators and staff of the Sandwich Public Schools also know that the preparation of high quality graduates begins in kindergarten.

With the our two-phased reorganization of our school district, we will open next year with all of Sandwich’s PreK-2 students at the Forestdale School, our 3-6 grade students at the Oak Ridge School, and our 7-8 grade  STEM Academy students, along with the 9-12 high school students in the Sandwich High School building.  As with the creation of the STEM Academy, the reorganization of our PreK-6 students will allow us to consolidate resources and offer an enhanced educational experience beyond what we are able to currently offer.  One way that we believe we can significantly improve our school system is to offer full-day kindergarten at no cost to families.

As a leadership team, we feel strongly that the time has come in Sandwich to make full-day kindergarten a part of the educational program we offer students and families in our district.  We are working diligently to implement this enhancement while also presenting a fiscally responsible budget that meets the guidance recommendations put forth by the Board of Selectman.

The idea that a quality full-day kindergarten program provides significant advantages for students is supported by research.  The National Association for School Psychologists (NASP) summarized current research around full-day vs. half-day kindergarten.  In their summary of the research they noted the following advantages for a full-day program.

  • Higher long-term achievement.
  • Higher achievement for disadvantaged and low income children, and for those receiving Title I services.
  • Higher reading scores in early grades.
  • Fewer grade retentions.
  • Higher test scores.
  • More time spent in individualized instruction.
  • More time spent in free play, less time in large groups.
  • Greater progress in social skills for disadvantaged and low income children.
  • More reinforcement of positive social behaviors.
  • Higher self esteem and independence.
  • Greater creativity.
  • Access to nutritional breakfast and lunch.
  • A more relaxed, less hurried school day with more varied experiences.
  • No apparent negative consequences in general.

Research that was conducted by the Education Commission of the States, a nonprofit organization that helps state leaders shape education policy, found that “studies not only show full-day programs have no detrimental effects on children who attend, but students show significantly stronger academic gains over the course of the kindergarten year than their counterparts in half-day programs.”  In addition, a comprehensive (yet easy to read) publication was created by Strategies for Children, a Massachusetts based non-profit organization, that further articulates the advantages of a full day program.  You can view and download a Fact Sheet here: Strategies for Children – FDK_Factsheet.  You can learn more about Strategies for Children here.

In addition to the considerable research that supports full-day kindergarten for all students, we have also examined this idea from a demand and competition perspective.  A survey of Cape Cod School Districts shows that the majority of our school choice competitors offer full day kindergarten at no cost to families.  In order to stay competitive in the education market, Sandwich needs to offer programs that attract families to this district and keep them here for a child’s entire educational experience.  An examination of enrollment data shows that 78% of our current kindergarten families have elected full-day.  State-wide the number of students enrolled in full-day programs is 88%.  This shows that a vast majority of families desire a full-day program.

Lastly, a full-day kindergarten program not only supports higher academic achievement for students, it also provides more time for inquiry, play and socialization.  Some may argue that kindergarten has become too academic and that we need to spend more time on “developmentally appropriate” practices in our kindergarten classrooms.  As Bassok, Claessens, Engel state in a recent EdWeek article, “Rather than focusing on whether academic content has a place in early-childhood classrooms, let’s focus on how to teach it in a way that is tailored to young learners. Let’s focus on creating engaging, fun, developmentally appropriate learning experiences for all kindergartners, acknowledging the importance of embedding enriching language and numeracy experiences within those environments.”  A quality full-day kindergarten program affords us the time and opportunity to complete this goal for all of Sandwich’s five year olds.

As we consider the research, our own values as educators and the needs and wants expressed by our families, we cannot help but come to the conclusion that the time is upon us to provide a quality full-day kindergarten program at no cost to families.

Additionally, the reorganization of the schools affords us the opportunity to provide this overall improvement in the quality of our educational program while still presenting an overall budget reduction for FY16.  It is not likely that we will see another opportunity to provide such a significant programmatic enhancement for no additional cost to the taxpayers.  The time is right, the reasoning is sound and it is the right thing to do.

References:

Bassok, Daphna, Amy Claessens, and Mimi Engel. “The Case for the New Kindergarten: Challenging and Playful.” Education Week.  Education Week.  3 June 2014.  Web. 11 Dec. 2014.  View and download here: Case for New Kindergarten – EdWeek

Kauerz, Kristie.  “Full Day Kindergarten: A Study of State Policies in the United States.” The Education Commission of the United States.  June 2005. Web. 10 Dec. 2014

“Kindergarten – Full Versus Half-Day: Information for Parents and Early Childhood Educators.”  National Association of School Psychologists. Rafoth, Mary Ann, Sara A. Grimes, and Beth Buzi. Web. 10 Dec. 2014.

“Full-Day Kindergarten Fact Sheet” Early Education for All.  Strategies for Children.  July 2014. Web. 10 Dec. 2014.