Getting educated

Evan Yoder, principal at Hillsboro Elementary School, meets with teacher Tracy Boldt to polish final details for inaugural all-day kindergarten classes.
Evan Yoder, principal at Hillsboro Elementary School, meets with teacher Tracy Boldt to polish final details for inaugural all-day kindergarten classes.
To enhance learning and better prepare students for the transition to first grade, this fall Hillsboro Elementary School joins other schools in Marion County and will offer full-day kindergarten sessions.

“The additional time for many of our children will allow them to build on a solid foundation of learning, progress more quickly in mastering skills, engage in more projects and provide additional social opportunities to interact with other students,? said Superintendent Steve Noble.

In April, USD 410 Board of Education voted to offer all-day kindergarten, which will meet from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. In the past, half-day met for three hours.

?I think our board approved a very good solution for our all-day kindergarten initiative,? Noble said. ?Our implementation will allow choice for our parents to have a half day or a whole day.?

Children of parents who requested the half-day option will attend from 8 a.m. to noon.

A majority of parents have expressed the preference for full-day.

?The count is in?87 percent of parents want all-day kindergarten,? said Evan Yoder, HES principal. ?For most people (in the district), this is what they want.?

Yoder said the change involves offering three sections of kindergarten, which will accommodate parents? wishes.

About 47 kindergartners, Yoder projected, will be divided into three sections taught by Tracy Boldt, Shari Sisk and Eleanor Jost when school starts Aug. 21.

Changing to full-day

Boldt, a veteran kindergarten teacher, welcomes the change to full-day.

?I?m looking forward to being able to be a little more relaxed because I feel like all of our lessons were really rushed,? Boldt said. ?We would always rush from this activity to the next one with very little time to (reflect) and have conversation… so I?m looking forward to having a little more time with the kids.?

Her current perspective is one that has evolved since she started teaching kindergarten 23 years ago.

?It was a process because I always felt like the half-day was meeting its needs at the time,? she said. ?And then probably 10 years or so, we went to adding our extended-day program. And that even met kids? needs for a time. It was very effective.

?We would keep about a third of our kindergartners all day. We based it on academics. We didn?t base it on parents? desire, and it really was meeting academic needs at the time.

?But now it just seems like we need to do more and we need more time to do it, to give kids a chance to practice things. We?ve added curriculum. We have a lot more that we?re expected to teach. Time is the big key?time to practice and to process.

Some say today?s kindergarten is the new first grade?what children used to learn in first grade is now taught in kindergarten.

?Twenty years ago, our end-of-the-year goals were things like knowing the letters of the alphabet and the sounds,? Boldt said. ?Now that?s taught at the beginning of kindergarten. We start spelling words in the fall, and they start reading words when we get the vowels introduced. It?s a big shift.?

Boldt said even though kindergartners are taught those types of skills, they learn differently than first graders.

?I?ve had some half-day parents who were concerned that if I?m teaching first-grade stuff, there kids weren?t ready for it,? she said.

?But we?re teaching it in a kindergarten way. It?s developmentally appropriate. We?re not going to do things like first grade because we?re not like first grade.?

Hands-on learning

In kindergarten, much of the learning is hands-on.

?We do some paper-pencil, but a lot of it is using objects and acting out stories,? Boldt said. ?A lot of kids need more practice with manipulatives and that sort of thing. With our phonics program, it does a great job of playing with the letters. We spell words using manipulatives, using magnets and using things, not just reading. We do reading, too, but kids need it that way, too.?

But in the past with half-day classes, Boldt said she felt the time pressure.

?When you do things with objects and manipulatives, that takes time,? she said. ?Some days we would be out of time to get things out. That kind of thing takes longer than doing five problems (on a sheet of paper).?

A major emphasis in education is STEM?science, technology, engineering and math.

?If we try to incorporate any more science or math, we just didn?t have time,? Boldt said. ?So if we want to incorporate some of that technology, we need more time to do it.?

Common Core standards, she said, have had some impact on the expected learning outcomes in kindergarten.

?We?ve found in the math area that we?re not necessarily teaching kids more,? Boldt said. ?But we?re supposed to go deeper in problem-solving and discussion?kids needs more time to explore.?

Because parents of half-day kindergartners have requested PE and music, Yoder said, those activities will be the last hour of the morning.

At this point, the half-day option is available for this year but it?s not a guarantee for future years.

Children?s needs

Yoder said while sorting through some stuff this summer, he found a 2004 issue of the Star Journal in which he was interviewed for a story about all-day kindergarten.

?That was a big push in the state back then,? he said. ?Most schools were already making that shift. I?m quoted as saying, ?It?s going to happen. It?s a matter of time.? That was 10 years ago.?

Some people may view all-day kindergarten as full-time day care and question why the schools should provide that service.

That may be the case for families with two working parents.

?Well, that?s the way it is,? Yoder said. ?Where do (the children) go??

In some cases, some children may be ?shoved off into a situation that may not be the best for them?definitely not academically,? he said.

?If we can get them in here and instruct them by a professional teacher like Tracy and our other teachers versus them going into a situation where they?re not getting that, I want them to get what they it.

?It was a big thing years ago and it?s a bigger thing now. I don?t know if we have more single parents now then we did then, but economically I would argue that things are worse now then they were in 2004.?

In retrospect, Boldt said she questions whether needs for all children were being adequately met in the past five years.

?We?ve met the needs of those extended-day kids who really academically needed it a lot,? she said. ?But it?s those middle-of-the-road kids that we just didn?t have the time.?

Boldt said she?s looking forward to having time to take her students on outings as well as have guest speakers and adding other activities that she has had to cut out because of time limitations.

Logistics

Offering all-day kindergarten has had budget implications, Yoder said.

The district had to purchase desks, chairs and more manipulatives for a third kindergarten classroom.

Also, the change to half-day required staff adjustments and classroom moves.

?Eleanor Jost, across the hall, was a first-grade classroom for years,? Yoder said. ?That is now a kindergarten classroom.?

To make another first grade room, Yoder said Title 1 was moved to another wing of the building..

?The big thing was we were able to eliminate three sections of second grade to two sections,? he said. ?That was one of all these cuts.

?Our media center person is now a classroom teacher, so that?s covered with a classified person. So we had to add (the third kindergarten teacher) on a tight budget, without increasing the staff costs.

?So there?s a give and take anytime you make a big move like this. So we fill this is important enough, so it was the way we went.?

Boldt said the first two weeks of school are going to be the biggest challenge.

?It will be challenging the first few days of school because I know the first couple of days for kindergarten on a normal day?having to change activities about every five minutes,? she said.

?But the kids will adjust and I?ll adjust. I?m looking forward to it.?