Voices

Shift to all-day kindergarten allows class to ‘do everything,’ teacher says

Ness Elementary School kindergartner Isabella McKenna, 6, tries out ink pens on different types of paper on Tuesday. Since the beginning of the school year, all elementary schools in the West Valley School District have offered full-day kindergarten, ahead of what the state requires. (Colin Mulvany)
Ness Elementary School kindergartner Isabella McKenna, 6, tries out ink pens on different types of paper on Tuesday. Since the beginning of the school year, all elementary schools in the West Valley School District have offered full-day kindergarten, ahead of what the state requires. (Colin Mulvany)

In Anna Staley’s kindergarten class at Ness Elementary School, students were working on a science project, learning about different kinds of paper and which kinds are better for drawing with markers.

“When you draw on this, it rips,” said Clarion Bergland, 6, holding up a square of tissue paper. “Yeah, it rips really easily.”

They tried drawing on construction paper, newsprint and corrugated cardboard. Most of them thought that newsprint was good to draw on, but one student pointed out the ink absorbed too much through the paper.

When they were finished, they gathered on the carpet in the front of the room and recited the story of “The Three Bears,” using music and dance moves.

Then they lined up, singing the rules about lining up and walking through the hallways before heading to music class.

It was a typical day in the class, which starting this year moved to a full day, rather than the half-day kindergarten of previous years.

“I love it,” Staley said. In years past, she said she had just a couple of hours to teach core subjects of reading and math and having to squeeze in any time for science or social studies.

“Now we can do everything,” she said.

West Valley School District, like many in the area, is moving toward full-day kindergarten, which must be fully implemented throughout the state by the 2017-18 school year.

In West Valley, the district used Title 1 funds, available to the schools with the highest poverty rate, to transition to full-day kindergarten this year at Ness, Orchard Center and Seth Woodard elementary schools. Pasadena Park has three morning kindergarten classes and from those, some students have been selected to attend in the afternoon as well, based on need. The district is looking at staffing and having discussions right now to see if moving to a full-day program is feasible next year.

In Central Valley School District, Broadway, Opportunity, Progress, Adams, McDonald and University elementary schools started full-day programs this year as well. All East Valley elementary schools started full-day programs last year.

This year, all schools in Spokane Public Schools have full-day kindergarten.

In a 2004 study by the Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement at the University of Minnesota, researchers found significant increases on every academic skill, achievement gap elimination among all racial and ethnic groups and a decrease in the gap between socioeconomic groups in full-day programs. The same study stated teachers found there was more in-depth instruction, closer relationships with students through more individualized instruction and they felt less rushed and could take advantage of teachable moments.

While most teachers in the study showed great enthusiasm about a full-day program, a small number wondered if a whole day was appropriate for the age group.

Staley said similarly, at the beginning of the school year, she met with parents and some of them were very excited about the full day. Others worried their children weren’t ready.

“They really are ready for it,” Staley said. “They can just do amazing things.”

Staley said keeping them busy and interested is the key. She said kindergarten students shouldn’t sit in their desks and listen for more than 10 minutes, so she has them meet on the carpet in a group and gives them a chance to work on projects based on their interests.

At the end of the day, her students take part in what she calls “active learning.” They get to reread stories they liked, make buildings using blocks and have created a store where they can do some pretend shopping, teaching them about money.

“ ‘We played all day,’ that’s how they should see their learning,” Staley said. Lessons are hidden inside activities, so they have fun while they learn.

Denton Heuett, 5, said his favorite part of kindergarten is “the active learning.”

“We get to make crafts,” said Justice Davis, also 5.

They work on their social skills and learn how to work in a group, much like the half-day programs taught them.

“Every year, I’m so amazed at where they came in and how far they’ve come,” Staley said.



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