Last night, East Lyme's Board of Education unanimously approved making kindergarten an all-day program for the 2013-2014 school year. The new school day for kindergarteners would begin at 9:15 a.m. and end at 3:30 p.m.
Although there was some discussion about continuing to make half-day kindergarten an option for parents, the board ultimately decided against that.
"Based on the experience of other schools in the area and [my own experience in other districts], it’s not my recommendation to create a half-day option," said East Lyme School Superintendent James Lombardo. "It will be more costly."
In other school districts that already have all-day kindergarten programs, such as Lyme-Old Lyme (which adopted all-day kindergarten in the 2010-2011 school year), very few parents have stated a preference for a half-day program and the few that do, Lombardo said, can be easily accommodated on an individual basis. He noted that running a midday bus, as the East Lyme school district does now, costs about $25,000 a year.
By extending the school day for kindergarteners, the school will save money on that additional bus run but a full-day program will be more costly overall. Lombardo estimates it will cost anywhere from $350,000 to $400,000 to pay for three to five additional teachers and instructional assistants for each classroom, plus the additional classroom supplies that will be needed.
That may sound like a big expenditure but it amounts to just 1 percent of the overall school budget.
A Long Time Coming
Although this is big news, all-day kindergarten is hardly a new idea. The East Lyme School District first began discussing the possibility two years ago as part of its long range plan and vision for the school system. In the ensuing years, there have been numerous studies, committees, and forums involving educators, parents, and community members, which found that 90 percent of parents were behind the idea.
Teachers are overwhelmingly in favor of it too. State-mandated changes to the curriculum for K-12th grade implemented this year, known as the Common CORE Standards, have raised the bar much higher for kindergarten students in both literacy and math skills.
For instance, the previous standards for math required kindergarten students to be able to count to 30, write and recognize numbers up to 10, and do addition. The new standards require students to count to 100, by ones and by tens, write numbers up to 30, and do addition and subtraction.
As Niantic Center School kindergarten teacher Lorraine Mattison explained it to the board last night, teachers need more than a half day to teach students everything they are now required to know.
"We don’t have enough time to teach skills necessary for our students to be successful in 1st grade," Mattison said. As it is, she said, she barely has time to read one book to students, and she has to choose each volume carefully to ensure that it meets with curriculum standards relating to math, science, literacy, and social studies.
"With a full-day kindergarten, our program would be enriched in all areas," said Mattison. "We would have time to read multiple books in different genres, sometimes maybe I could read a book for fun. If kindergarten was all day, groups could be smaller, [and we could] provide extra help or enrichment."
Mattison said a fellow teacher put it best when she noted, “A full day puts the children at the center of the program, whereas a half-day puts the schedule first.”
If there were any doubters on the board before Mattison's presentation, there weren't any afterward. Superintendent Lombardo also strongly recommended the board approve the proposal to move to all-day kindergarten.
"I’m totally in favor of this," said Board Chairman Timothy Hagen. "It’s the right thing to do for the 21st century."