Full-day Kindergarten thrives
Full-day kindergarten has become at least a temporary reality in all four Park City elementary schools. McPolin Elementary School held an open house for its full-day pilot program on Wednesday Oct 18, to educate the community on the benefits that a permanent program could bring.
McPolin’s full-day kindergarten has been in operation for two years. The pilot-program has produced greatly-improved test scores of students now in first grade, said Lori O’Connor, principal of McPolin Elementary. The full-day program contains students of all abilities who learn at their own speeds. They are constantly monitored for progress.
"With No Child Left Behind, students are tested often to discover any deficiencies which teachers can focus on," Lou Ann Smedsrud, the McPolin kindergarten teacher said "The ongoing assessment of NCLB is so invaluable."
"Our pre-kindergarten and kindergarten are the foundation of everything we do," O’Connor said.
The Park City Education Foundation has provided a portion of the funding for McPolin and the other three elementary school’s full-day programs. In addition, McPolin Elementary is a Title 1 school, receiving Federal funding to increase the school’s educational resources based on the high percentage of students coming from low-income families.
We received $101,000 from Title 1 funding last year, but the overall cost of one teacher is $65,000," O’Connor said. We have Senate-bill money from the State, but that is ending this year."
According to Smedsrud, and O’Connor, the full-day kindergarten class begins at 8:10 a.m. Students are broken into groups depending on their abilities. Two English language specialists "step in" for 45 minutes to help students deficient in language skills, then "step out," leaving the classroom to the teacher. Phonics are then taught to all students. The day includes a lunch break, core subjects, play time and social skills. The day ends at 3:05 p.m. A half-day of kindergarten would last 2 ½ hours.
Twenty-three students are enrolled in McPolin’s full-day classes. Parents of 11 students paid their child’s tuition. The other 12 students were identified in early testing as having the greatest academic need. Most of those students were English language learning students (ELL). Latinos make up 36 percent of the kindergarten population, O’Connor said, adding that it typically takes a non-English speaker 5-10 years to become proficient in a new language. With the full-day program, Spanish speakers are making great strides in learning English, O’Connor said.
"What is so wonderful is none of our ELL students have to leave the classroom and feel excluded from the rest of the class," Smedsrud said. "The teachers come to them. Our English-speaking kids are even learning Spanish."
"It’s incredible that we get to embrace the diversity here," Smedsrud said." I don’t know how to articulate just how wonderful it is."
O’Connor speaks with passion about benefits of full-day-kindergarten, not only academic benefits from the additional instruction, but also social benefits. She spoke of the "Tribes" socialization program that all full-day students take part in. O’Connor also said students adapt better to first grade because they already know the routine.
"We’d be able to offer so much more in full-day programs, but the funding has to be there," O’Connor said.
Furthermore, O’Connor believes full-day-kindergarten can become a reality for all kindergarteners. She said the way for parents to help make it happen is to contact their legislators.
"A kindergarten class is one of the most joyful places to go in the world," said O’Connor. Once, when she was having a particularly bad day, O’Connor remembers that a teacher said to her, "go to the kindergarten class, you’ll feel better.
Governor Jon Huntsman Jr., (801) 538-1000
Rep. Ross Romero, (801) 633-6940
Rep. David Ure, (435) 783-4650
Sen. Beverly Evans, (435) 4543719
Sen. Allen Christensen, (801) 782-5600
Rep. Rob Bishop, (202) 225-0453
Rep. Chris Cannon (202) 225-7751
Rep. Jim Matheson, (202) 225-3011
Sen. Bob Bennett, (801) 924-5933
Sen. Orrin Hatch, (801) 524-4380
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Thanks to COVID-19 cutting into visitation numbers, Park City’s seasonal workforce is sufficient. In any other winter, “the hiring situation would be dire.”