Kindergartners graduate from half to whole days

St. John's Elementary celebrates milestone of its first class finishing all-day program

June 18, 2006|By KAREN NITKIN | KAREN NITKIN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Six-year-old Elly Freese, wearing a blue dress, had just graduated from kindergarten at St. John's Elementary School and was now stopping by for a hug from her mommy before returning to the school playground with her friends.

She said the school year was "good" and that her favorite subjects were math and art.

Elly is one of 110 children in the school's all-day kindergarten. Throughout the county, elementary schools are phasing in the full-day program, with the last batch introducing it in 2008.

As the school year came to a close Thursday, teachers and parents at St. John's agreed that the first year of full-day classes went well, despite some misgivings that the day would be too long and the children too tired.

"For us, it was wonderful," said Elly's mother, Heather Freese. "She was ready for it and she was fine for the full day."

Amy Greer, the school's kindergarten team leader, said she was nervous at first about switching to full-day after five years of teaching half-day kindergarten at the school. "I didn't know if they would be developmentally ready for the full day," she said. "I didn't know if they would have the stamina."

She also was concerned about the logistics of kids eating lunch in the cafeteria, something that half-day pupils avoided. Children would have to bring in lunches or lunch money and would have to navigate the lunch line if they were buying food.

But, Greer said, she was pleasantly surprised at how easy lunchtime became. And, she said, the kids have learned much more in the full-year program.

"Academically, it's definitely a plus," she said. More pupils finished the school year knowing how to read, she said, and they also benefited from "specials" like music, art and physical education that older children enjoyed.

"They're able to put writable words on paper," said teacher Michele Cook. "I would hate to go back to half-day now."

Greer also liked that she has half as many pupils for twice as much time, so she got to know each one better. She also had half as many report cards and teacher conferences.

Principal Deborah Jagoda was likewise pleased with the full-day program. "We've seen such gains for our students," she said. "Their progress has definitely been multiplied by two."

Jagoda, who has been principal at St. John's for seven years, said the school had made an effort to include music and art in the half-day curriculum, but kids get a lot more in the full day.

"When I think of what we were trying to put in the half-day and what we're doing now - oh my gosh, it's twice as good," she said.

Jagoda also noted that the county's full-day kindergarten curriculum includes a quiet time when kids can nap, read or color. "Some children really do need the time to lie down and close their eyes for a few minutes," she said.

Greer said she would turn off the lights during quiet time and read chapter books like the Magic School Bus series.

Teacher Rachel Clinton noted that, at the start of the school year, children became tired by the end of the day, but she said "the students adjusted, definitely." Greer also said that she put the more difficult academic work earlier in the day because her pupils had less ability to concentrate as the day wore on.

Parent Terry Purnell, who was with her son Jack on the playground after Thursday's graduation ceremony, said Jack would come home hungry and tired at the start of the school year but that he soon adjusted, and "he did fine."

She said the full-day program was a "great experience," and she's especially pleased that it will ease her son's transition to first grade.

Parents Angela and Victor Musa, whose daughter Emani graduated, also liked the program. "I thought it was wonderful. I really did," Angela Musa said. "At first I was kind of worried about her being tired, but she seemed to do really well. She's come a long way."

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