The push for all-day

Last modified: 6/9/2015 10:52:31 AM
The popularity of all-day kindergarten has snowballed across the U.S. over the last two decades. In just New Hampshire, 96 school districts have begun offering all-day kindergarten since 1999. While some consider the extra half-day a plus for students and working families, others consider it too long a day for a kindergartner.

Mason is not one of the 108 school districts in New Hampshire that offers all-day kindergarten at present. But Supt. and Principal of Mason Elementary School James McCormick is pushing to implement it there.

Supt. and Principal of Mason Elementary School James McCormick said he can’t speak highly enough about the benefits of all-day kindergarten.

“[Students] come from all different walks of life. They all get a better start, a better foundation, and are more socially involved,” he said in an interview last week. “There is no downside.”

Wilton-Lyndeborough doesn’t offer it either. Jaffrey-Rindge was one of the first districts to offer all-day kindergarten, beginning in the 2003-04 school year, while ConVal started offering it in 2013-14.

While all-day kindergarten is becoming the norm nationwide, New Hampshire was the last state to mandate districts offer at minimum a half-day of public kindergarten in 2009. Now, state statute does not explicitly require children attend kindergarten. Rather, once a child is 6, they must attend school. The Department of Education allows districts to choose whether to offer part-day or full-day kindergarten.

Is it worth it?

In March, Mason residents rejected lengthening the kindergarten day, which is now 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., by a vote of 153, no, to 94, yes. McCormick suspects cost was the greatest deterrent, although he can’t be certain, because the vote was by secret ballot. The move would have cost $59,165 for the 12 kindergarten students at the elementary school.

And yet, McCormick said it would be worth it, referring to the benefits he observed in his four-decade teaching career in Massachusetts and supporting studies.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, research over the last two decades shows that all-day kindergarten narrows the learning gap between children from more well-off backgrounds and more at-risk ones, since all students in a kindergarten class receive the same education. All-day kindergarten students have better social skills, and perform better on standardized tests later in elementary school, according to the research.

McCormick acknowledged certain students are not ready for all-day kindergarten.

Bonnie Harris — a counselor for parents and founder of The Parent Guidance, which merged into The River Center — said kindergarten should be organized play.

“We need to understand play is academic for children. There shouldn’t be any worksheets — God forbid, no homework,” she said. “Homework is being sent home with kindergartners. That is an abomination.”

Harris said all-day kindergarten should be available, just not required. She considers the option particularly beneficial for children from disadvantaged homes. But children who have an enriched home life, or who become overstimulated easily, might not be ready for a full day of school, she said.

McCormick and Mason Special Education Director Kristen Kivela are not through urging voters to adopt all-day kindergarten. They already know the curriculum, since Common Core State Standards mandate the content teachers must teach kindergartners.

It’s the school’s responsibility, said Kivela, to balance the curriculum with “making sure kids are still kids.”

A cooperative effort

ConVal is finishing its second year offering all-day kindergarten.

ConVal didn’t consider implementing all-day kindergarten because at-risk students were performing worse than the rest of the class, said Assistant Supt. Kimberly Saunders. Rather, the district’s students from larger towns weren’t performing as well as students from smaller towns.

“The question was, is there an opportunity gap, based on where students happen to be?” said Saunders. “What we were finding...[is] students who were experiencing full-day kindergarten were overcoming achievement gaps that other students who didn’t have all-day kindergarten were struggling more to overcome.”

Historically, the number of kindergarten students in Hancock, Francestown, Temple and Dublin were not large enough to warrant their own classes, explained Saunders. So, each elementary school combined the kindergarten and first-grade students into one classroom, and those classes were all-day.

The elementary schools in Peterborough, Antrim and Bennington had enough kindergarten students to offer a kindergarten class, which was part-day.

In choosing to offer all-day kindergarten, Saunders said the district also weighed the increase in working families and single parents, the popularity of all-day preschool and the popularity of all-day kindergarten nationwide .

So, the district decided to offer all-day kindergarten district-wide to the delight of Peterborough Elementary School Teacher Jennifer Christensen.

“I think that it’s great,” said Christensen, who has taught at the elementary school for 15 years. “I feel the consistency for students — to be provided with a high-quality, full-day kindergarten.”

Christensen said all-day kindergarten has enabled her to provide deeper and more individualized instruction to students. Students can also play and socialize more with each other.

“With part-day [kindergarten], we were really asking them to make so many transitions in a short amount of time,” she said. “It’s very hard to have 5-year-olds transition. [Now] we have time to go at their pace, and meet their needs”

Christensen’s class begins at 8:40 a.m. Students have a morning meeting, review the rest of their day, and sing. Following recess, Christensen provides her students with reading and more personal instruction. After lunch and a quiet period, the students learn math, which includes science and social studies. Afterward, they learn arts, music or have physical education.

Christensen said an additional benefit of all-day kindergarten is a large percentage of children in New Hampshire come from single-parent families. She referred to the research organization N.H. Kids Count, which reported 43 percent of children under 5 come from single-family homes.

“We’re really going to need to step up, and make choices that allow us to invest our time and money in early childhood education,” she said. “It really is the foundation for the rest of a person’s life.”

Susan Shaw-Sarles, principal of Jaffrey Grade School, said the Jaffrey-Rindge School District also considered working families when they implemented all-day kindergarten a decade ago.

“A half-day program, then a different daycare another half-day — it’s just a lot of transition in a young child’s life,” she said. “We felt like we could have a program that better suited [student’s] needs with no transitions midday.”

Shaw-Sarles said she has found an all-day program better addresses the academic, social and emotional needs of kindergarten students.

Now, when Shaw-Sarles provides tours of the elementary school, she is proud of the early childhood education JGS offers. The school was also one of the first in New Hampshire to offer public kindergarten, she said, in 1973.

Benji Rosen can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 228, or Follow him on Twitter @Benji_Rosen.


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