Full-day K ahead for Mason and WLC

  • Lyndeborough Central School Kindergarten teacher Vicki MacPherson leads her class in a phonics and spelling lesson while student Brandon Martinez listens. Staff photo by Ashley Saari

  • Rowan Hannan, right, and Izabella Snow work on spelling and writing simple words in their Lyndeborough Central School kindergarten class.  Staff photo by Ashley Saari

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 4/9/2018 5:51:26 PM

“Always, my struggle has been between balancing developmentally appropriate activities and academics,” said Sue Rysnik.

Rysnik teaches kindergarten at Mason Elementary School, which currently has half-day sessions available. But after budget increases for a full-day program were approved during ballot voting this year, she is now preparing to enter next year with the district’s first full-day program.

Academically, she can immediately see the benefits of increasing the amount of time students have to work on the fundamentals, said Rysnik. 

“I think it’s impossible to get to all the Common Core standards with half day,” she said.

That was a sentiment that was echoed by the kindergarten teachers at Lyndeborough Central School, which provides kindergarten and pre-school for both Wilton and Lyndeborough students. Wilton-Lyndeborough Cooperative is another district that approved full-day kindergarten for next year.

Both districts decided to address the concept of full-day kindergarten this year due to additional funding available from the state. The state provides funding per student to schools, but until this year, kindergarteners received half the amount of funding. This year, the state increased that amount, although compensation for kindergarten students has yet to reach the level of their grade school counterparts. However, these increases were only offered for students enrolled in a full-day program.

The influx of potential revenue made full-day a more viable option for communities like WLC and Mason.


Rising expectations

Expectations for kindergartners are more stringent than they once were, said Vicki MacPherson, kindergarten teacher at WLC. Today, among the list of tasks that kindergarteners must accomplish is name and write all 25 letters, read and write short word, write sentences with proper spacing, capital letters and punctuation, recognize and write numbers up to 20 and count to 100, add and subtract up to 5, and interpret graphs.

“You hear a lot this idea that ‘Kindergarten is the new first grade,’” explained Nicole Dane, also a WLC kindergarten teacher. 

“This is just a lot for a kindergartner in a half-day program to have time to learn and use,” said MacPherson. “It is also a lot for a kindergartner with a full-day program to learn, but it is, hopefully, not as much of a stretch.”

Currently, said MacPherson, she the goal is to spend between half an hour and 45 minutes each on phonics, reading, math and writing. But, she said, that constitutes the entire day, not accounting for transition time, play, or things like crafts, which while not academic can help to develop things like fine motor control. So, anytime they add in something other than those four core skills to their day, that academic practice gets sacrificed.

“It just doesn’t all get done,” said MacPherson.

While teachers hope that the additional time will lead to a more relaxed day with time to fit in those skills consistently, it also opens up time for kids to get an introduction to additional subjects that they’ll be facing in grade school, such as social studies and science.

“Right now, I try to embed them where it’s appropriate,” said Rysnik. “If I’m reading a story about a butterfly, I’ll talk about the life cycle. But it’s not consistent.”

Now, Rysnik said, she’s looking forward to projects like actually hatching caterpillars in the classroom, and learning about that cycle first-hand. 

And it also gives teachers additional time for “specials” like physical education, music and art. In Mason, times for specials that occur once or twice a week will be extended. In Wilton, they’ll be introduced.

“These are often the things that kids get the most excited about, and we don’t have them,” said Tim O’Connell, the principal at Lyndeborough Central School and Wilton’s Florence Rideout Elementary School. “There are children who find success in music, or physical education, and that’s what they’re excited for school about, and we’ll be able to introduce those classes earlier.”


Benefits of full-day

Jaffrey Grade School Principle Susan Sarles said the Jaffrey-Rindge district has had full-day kindergarten since 2003.

“The benefits were most noticed in those initial years,” said Sarles. “Those increased hours did have a positive impact on learning outcomes, as you’d expect.”

The district received positive feedback from its teachers about the switch, said Sarles, who said that the increased time allowed for a “much calmer day” with more time to focus on skills, and a full specials program. And academics improved enough that the district had to address its first-grade program, because students were coming in more advanced.

“We did have to look at the first grade curriculum, because kids were just coming in much stronger than they had in the past. It has allowed us to give kids an earlier start, and they’re in general entering first grade at a stronger learning level.”


‘It’s a long dayfor a 5-year-old’

While there may be academic benefits, some parents in the WLC district questioned whether it was the right social choice. 

“Some parents are worried, or say things like, ‘It’s a long day for a 5-year-old,’” said O’Connell.

The overwhelming main concern teachers and administrators have heard from parents regarding switching from half-day to full-day kindergarten, is that they don’t know how well their child will cope with the longer school day. 

“We know that stamina is something that takes time to develop,” said O’Connell. “It’s normal for parents to have concerns about whether their child will be able to meet the expectations. The same conversation happens a lot when a student is moving to first grade.”

Both WLC and Mason will structure the day so that most of the academics are in the morning, and the second half of the day is more heavy with art, music, physical education and story time, to accommodate for the potential of flagging attention spans. 

And it’s simply become the norm, said Rysnik.

More than 75 percent of New Hampshire communities provide full-day kindergarten. 

“We want our kids to be able to keep up with the rest of the world,” said Dane.

“A full-day program attracts residents,” said Rysnik. “The first thing parents look at in a community is the school, and it’s often a plus. I know people that have come to the area and are astounded that there isn’t a full-day option.”

And at the end of the day, said O’Connell, he has heard more parents who recognize the potential benefits.


The cost of eventuallyleveling out

In Wilton-Lyndeborough, the school’s budget committee voted to not recommend a warrant article that raised the funds for full-day kindergarten, both for fiscal and academic reasons. The board claimed studies showed mixed results relating to performance when comparing half-day and full-day programs, and that whatever advantages a child coming from a full-day program had, the playing field had been leveled by the third grade.

But even if that is true, said O’Connell, the school district may have to put additional resources to catching up. And there is a social cost to the student, as well, said Rysnik.

“There’s an emotional and self-esteem piece, as well as just making school a place that is fun and exciting versus hard and overwhelming,” she said. “Things like speech and language, if there is a difficulty there, or a learning disability, the sooner you can catch it and address it, the much better it’s going to go.”

Kindergarten registration for Lyndeborough Central School is ongoing through May 2. Registration for kindergarten at Mason Elementary School is the week of April 16. Register at the schools during school hours.


Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.

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