Full-day K on the horizon

REGION 16 — When Region 16 students return to class Aug. 31, the first day will be more than the start of another school year — it will mark the beginning of full-day kindergarten in the district.

“I think that it’s an exciting change for the district,” Laurel Ledge Elementary School Principal Regina Murzak said.

The Region 16 Board of Education, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, voted in February to implement full-day kindergarten for the coming school year. The full-day program extends the school day from two hours and 45 minutes to six and half hours for kindergarten students.

“The exciting part is that [students will] be doing every subject every single day in its entirety,” Prospect Elementary School Principal Rima McGeehan said.

With the half-day program, instruction was often compacted to meet time constraints. The full-day program allows for kindergarten classes to expand on those lessons and do more, including additional one-on-one time with teachers.

The schedule for the full-day program is similar to a typical school day. There are blocks of time set aside for languages arts, science and math lessons, as well as the arts and physical education. For the first time, kindergarten students will go to lunch and recess, like older elementary students, followed by a 20-minute “quiet time.”

The quiet time is designed for students to quietly do work, like reading, or get one-on-one help from a teacher. Officials acknowledged that at first some students may use the time to rest.

“If they need to sleep, were going to let them rest,” McGeehan said. “But we find in the first few weeks they’ve adjusted to their day and that quiet time becomes, for all children, either spending quiet time with a book or the opportunity to work closer with a teacher.”

Aside from the length of the school day, officials pointed to the implementation of “learning centers” in kindergarten as the biggest change in the schedule.

McGeehan explained students will be broken up into small groups. The groups will then move around to different learning centers in the class to work on content-related activities that are differentiated to meet the children’s individual needs.

For example, McGeehan said, students may play a game at a learning center to reinforce what they just learned in a math lesson.

The schedule was developed by a task force that was charged with reviewing full-day kindergarten. The task force, which consisted of parents, administrators and teachers, presented its report in January and ultimately recommended going to full-day kindergarten.

Region 16 Director of Curriculum Instruction Barbara Peck, who is a member of the task force, said the committee visited other districts with full-day kindergarten to study what they do well. She added the foundation of the full-day program is built on elements of the half-day program.

“Now we’re able to do what we really should be doing in a kindergarten program,” Peck said.

The region also wants to ensure the program is consistent in every classroom across the district.

“Kindergarten is the first car on the K-12 train and we want them to be on the right track,” Peck said.

To ensure consistency, Peck explained, the entire kindergarten staff has been brought tougher for professional development specifically on full-day kindergarten.

“This was a unique opportunity for us to bring all teachers together so there’s not a lot of variance between classrooms,” Peck said.

That professional development will continue throughout the school year, she said.

“We want to provide a common experience for the students,” Peck said.

With a little more than a week to go before school starts, Murzak and McGeehan both said their schools are ready for full-day kindergarten. Though, McGeehan said, she is looking for parent volunteers to help out during lunch and recess. Anyone interested can contact her at the school.

McGeehan offered a bit of advice for parents of kindergarten incoming kindergarten students: make sure their children eat a good breakfast and get plenty of rest.

“For a lot of students, full-day will be a new experience for them,” she said.