Switch to full-day classes completed

System's last eight elementaries will start teaching kindergartners all day, a year before state deadline

August 27, 2006|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Reporter

Among the more than 41,000 Harford County public school students who will show up for first day of class tomorrow are the last group of full-day kindergartners, completing the county's switch from the half-day format.

With the last eight schools welcoming 5-year-olds for a full day, Harford's 24 elementaries are in compliance a year ahead of the state's deadline for all-day kindergarten.

Ring Factory Elementary School, just outside Bel Air, has been preparing for a year for the transition with teacher training, renovated classrooms and additional materials and furniture. One wing of the school is devoted to four kindergarten classes, each with 15 children.

"All we had to do was find the space," said Principal Dave Cooper. "We have all the kindergartens together. The classes are small and that's a great thing."

Cooper's wife, Susan, begins her 30th year in a kindergarten classroom tomorrow, the same day that her daughter Katie Cooper, a recent college graduate, starts her first year at Forest Hill Elementary.

Susan Cooper, who made the change from half-day to full-day two years ago at North Bend Elementary in Jarrettsville, said she is convinced that the change has been positive.

"This has given us more time to reach children's needs and to help them develop skills and readiness for first grade," she said. "The children are in school all day, not just 2 1/2 hours. They are mine all day. I don't have to let one class go at lunchtime and start another in the afternoon."

Michelle Stare, who is about to teach first grade to many of her former kindergarten pupils at Hickory Elementary, has had three years of experience with the all-day program.

"The day really helps you get to know your children so much more," Stare said. "By the end of the year, you are able to tell first-grade teachers where each child is with skills."

Now that she has taught one class all day at Hickory Elementary, Dru Grubb said, "I don't know how we did two classes and double everything."

As the Ring Factory kindergarten team prepared for the change this year, they observed classrooms already on the new schedule and met frequently to plan among themselves. To allay parental concerns, they organized an orientation before school closed for the summer.

Parents are often more stressed about a long day than their children, many of whom have been in structured preschool programs, teachers said.

"You get everybody in the school family, including cafeteria workers, the nurse and transportation people, involved in easing parents' anxiety," Susan Cooper said. "The kids adapt better than we do. They take what comes and run with it."

Ring Factory's teachers reviewed with parents the curriculum and schedule that includes a 25-minute quiet time - with lights down, classical music and mats for resting - every afternoon.

"It gives them a chance to rest and for solitude," said Tina Sample, who printed pupils' names on paper boats that she affixed to the classroom door under a sign that invites children to sail into kindergarten. "They wake up for literature and get right back in the groove."

The schedule "is not so fast-paced and offers more time for academics, socialization, everything that gets children to where they need to be in first grade," Sample said. "You don't have kids unpacking and packing up in 2 1/2 hours."

The week also includes blocks for art, music, library, computer lab and physical education with daily lunch, snack and outdoor time.

"It is all about establishing routine," said Kim Hemling, who came to Harford County from Baltimore County and has seven years of experience with all-day kindergarten. "This is directed teaching with subject then movement because they are 5."

Her colleague Jennifer Schmidt said, "We start out slowly, so it's not overwhelming."

After opening exercises, the children tackle the problem of the day. That could be finding a letter and making pictures that begin with it or writing their names five times.

The curriculum integrates math and language arts into daily activities with the calendar or the clock. Every week the children work on one song and a new "big book."

"They look at the cover and pictures to predict what the story will be about and how the book will end," said Melissa Martsoukos, the fourth team member. "They can stretch the stories, too. We may just have writers come out of here. "

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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