Kindergarten rocks: Shift to all-day kindergarten pays off for students

March 2016 Posted in School

Eugene Field kindergarten teacher Breanna Davis reads a story about Abraham Lincoln to her students.

Eugene Field kindergarten teacher Breanna Davis reads a story about Abraham Lincoln to her students.

By Kristine Thomas

In the beginning, it was a challenging adjustment for everyone – teachers, parents and students.

But as everyone settled into the routine and the expectations were made clear, there is an excitement about the growth and benefits for the students.

Now kindergarten teachers throughout the Silver Falls School District can clearly see the benefits of making the shift from half to full-day kindergarten.

Eugene Field kindergarten teacher Brooke Jaeger said the greatest benefit of all-day kindergarten is the “gift of time.”

“I have twice as much, if not more, time with my students this year,” Jaeger said. “With this time I am able to teach, reteach, and even extend on kindergarten concepts and skills. My students are able to practice various skills and find success in learning without feeling rushed or stressed.”

All-day kindergarten gives her more time to connect with her students and their families. Last year, she taught two half-day sessions with more than 50 students.

“Now that I have just one class of kindergarteners for twice the amount of time, I feel like I am able to connect with my students and their families on a much deeper level,” Jaeger said. “This connection helps me provide each of my students with exactly what they need to be successful in learning.”

From having time to teach art, music, science and PE lessons to spending more time on reading, writing and math, the kindergarten teachers who were interviewed, all said they are enjoying the longer days. This is the first year kindergarten has been full-day in the Silver Falls School District. At St. Mary’s Public School in Mount Angel all-day kindergarten has been offered since 2014.

New academic expectations 

Michelle Buckley has taught kindergarten for nine years at Evergreen Elementary School.

“One thing that stands out to me with all-day kinder is their confidence in math and writing,” Buckley said. “We just have more time to go deeper into subjects. It was difficult to balance the expectations of full-day curriculum into a half day and still have the joy and discovery that makes kindergarten so special.”

She remembers when kindergarten was about learning to follow classroom routines, work well with others and learning the sounds of the alphabet.

“These goals have shifted to pre-kindergarten level and students now need to take the letter sounds and use those to decode words and learn 39 sight words,” she said. “Kindergarteners need to be reading at the end of kindergarten. In the past, they had to be ready to read.”

Buckley said students who are struggling show a positive impact, too. Their scores for midyear are already equal to what her kindergartens’ scores were last spring.

“I think the children have transitioned much easier than the parents. It definitely gives them a boost into first and second grade,” Buckley said.

“Will it make a long term difference? I’m not sure, but we are enjoying our extra time together. I think my parents have been happy not to have homework other than sharing a good book together.”

Kids are the same 

Eugene Field kindergarten teacher Breanna Davis has taught kindergarten for six years. This is her first year at Eugene Field.

“Over the past few years, I have seen changes in what students are required to learn, but the kids are still the same,” Davis said. “They still want to have fun while learning, play games, explore, and learn.”

With the Common Core, students are required to learn a quite a bit more before they leave kindergarten.

For example, when Davis first started teaching, kindergarten students only had to count to 30. Now, their goal is to count to 100. They also have to learn more shapes

“Kindergarteners are required to know a certain number of sight words and be reading simple consonant/vowel/consonant words by the end of the year,” Davis said.  “Although, they have more goals with kindergarten being full-day now I am confident that my students will have the time to meet all their goals.”

A visit to the kindergarten classes at Eugene Field showed the students are focused on learning while having fun. In one classroom, they sang songs to remember how to spell the word “what.” In another, they were hearing about Abe Lincoln and his problem with disorganized papers. In all the classrooms, there was a lot of activity – clapping hands, singing or answering questions.

This is Lori Pittenger’s first year teaching kindergarten at Eugene Field, where she previously taught first grade for 12 years.

“My kinder students are now performing at the level that most of my first grade students would enter with in September,” Pittenger said. “So in some ways our all day kinder is the new first grade. I don’t, however, feel that we are pushing them. If they are not grasping a concept, then we spend more time on that subject. It has been a well-known fact that some other countries are way ahead of us in education. I think this is one really good way to help America start catching up.”

Importance of social skills

Pittenger said it’s important there is a balance in learning academics and learning how to be social. While her students are learning academics quickly, what she has learned is next year she needs to plan more exploration and social play time into their daily schedule.

“I think that is really important to expose them to that at this early stage in their lives,” Pittenger said. “I see students who can read and write, but can’t make friends on the playground. I will definitely be spending more time on social skills next year.”

The “new” first grade

Silver Crest Elementary School kindergarten teacher Christine Guenther has taught kindergarten for eight years. She agrees with her colleagues that kindergarten is the new first grade.

She recalls when she was in kindergartener more than 40 years ago that she learned shapes, sang songs, painted, played, learned letters and numbers and even  had nap time.

Now, the expectations are higher and it helps to have more time to help her students develop as learners.

Guenther said there are many benefits to all-day kindergarten, including the time to see children as individuals and differentiate her instruction based on their learning styles, skill sets and strengths.

“I feel less rushed and more organized and intentional about what learning targets I am teaching each day,” Guenther said.

“While I originally had momentary reservations about full day kindergarten, I embrace it now completely because I see how much having additional time allows me to teach more fully. I am fortunate to have 13 students and I have been continually amazed by what they have been able to learn since the beginning of the year compared to where we would be with partial day.”

Her students already know all 36 of the kindergarten sight words, can write independently in their journals daily and they write and draw for 15 minutes.

“Almost all of the students are working on mastering 75 sight words and this is still just February,” Guenther said.

“The majority of the students have already read all of the at-grade-level and above-grade-level books in the curriculum, so now almost all of them are reading first grade books and are so excited about being able to read!”

Mount Angel School District
St. Mary’s Elementary School
590 E. College St., 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 7. 503-845-2547

Silver Falls School District
Bethany Charter School
11824 Hazel Green Road NE, 1-2 p.m. Monday, May 23. 503-873-4300

Butte Creek School
37569 S. Hwy 213, 6:30 p.m Thursday, April 28. 503-829-6803

Central Howell School
8832 Silverton Road NE, 1:30 p.m. Monday, April 4. 503-873-4818

Community Roots Charter School
does not hold kindergarten roundup

Evergreen School
3727 Cascade Hwy NE, 1:15 – 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 4. 503-873-4845

Pratum School (See Central Howell)

Eugene Field School
6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 5 at Mark Twain School, 425 North Church St. Eugene Field will close this summer, the name of the elementary school will change to Mark Twain Elementary
starting 2016-17 school year. 503-873-6341

Scotts Mills School
805 First St, Scotts Mills, 2 – 3 p.m. Monday, May 2. 503-873-4394

Silver Crest School Kindergarten
Round-up days are scheduled throughout April and May. Each family comes to visit individually so they can see the current kindergarten class in action, tour the school,
and meet the kindergarten teacher. Call the school at 503-873-4428 to schedule a day and time. The school is located at 365 Loar S.E. Rd.

Victor Point School
1175 Victor Point Road SE, 12 p.m. Monday, May 9. 503-873-4987

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