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Fix Kindergarten, Don't Just Extend It



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Fix Kindergarten, Don’t Just Extend It

To the Editor:

It’s settled. Full-day kindergarten will not be implemented in our public schools for the 2012-2013 school year. For at least another year, Newtown parents still have the freedom of choice. Those who believe a half-day program is the right fit for their children can send them to the taxpayer-funded public kindergarten. Those parents preferring a full-day program can choose from the private options in town.

Yes, there is additional cost for a private option, but sometimes we parents need to balance those priorities, like when my husband and I recognized that the elementary schools’ curriculum was lacking in geography and history. We purchased yearly curriculums to teach our children as a supplement to their school day.

In kindergarten, through the use of songs and stories, they learned the basics of geography within each of the seven continents, and were introduced to American history. By fourth grade, they had explored the history of human civilization from the time nomads first settled in the Fertile Crescent to current history, including topics like the pyramids of ancient Egypt, the origins of democracy in ancient Greece, and trade along China’s Silk Road.

This is just one example of educational improvements Newtown schools could (and should) be implementing, if we focus on educational excellence rather than expensive programs with questionable benefits, such as compelling all students into a full-day of kindergarten.

Judging from January’s Board of Education (BOE) presentation provided by the Sandy Hook School principal, Newtown’s kindergarten program has gone downhill. The teachers are stressed, being asked to cram in more academics than their young students’ minds and attention spans can handle, resulting in a lack of curriculum coordination across kindergarten classes.

As the BOE and superintendent fiddled with compelling all students into a full-day of kindergarten, Rome continued to burn. It’s high time we fix our current kindergarten offering, rather than just continue to advocate for more hours in the day.

Yes, we’ve been burdened with changing state standards. Yet, the developmental capabilities of 5-year-olds don’t change, and the fact remains, we have a half-day kindergarten program.

While my children attended Hawley, I experienced caring and dedicated teachers, and no challenge too big for Principal Jo-Ann Peters to handle. Thus, I’m confident our principals and teachers could find a way to provide a developmentally and individually appropriate learning environment in our half-day kindergarten program, and also have students prepared for their first state test in third grade — the same grade, coincidentally, by which any academic gains of full-day kindergarten versus half-day completely disappear (per longitudinal studies).

But, that direction needs to come from the top.

I ask the BOE and superintendent not to subject our kindergarten teachers and students to another year of stress and the feeling of failure. I ask that they challenge the principals to figure out how to improve the half-day setting we have, rather than continue to promote the vision that our only solution is to add three more hours to each kindergartener’s school day.

Cathy Reiss

42 Obtuse Road, Newtown                                            August 1, 2012

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