July 17th, 2019

all day kindergartenA group of kindergarteners at Meadowlark Elementary School do a group activity during school recently. Having switched to all-day kindergarten, USD 480 administration and kindergarten teachers have said the new scheduling has been a great success. L&T photo/Elly GrimmELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times


USD 480 has undergone some massive changes in the short span of the past couple years, with one of the major changes being the implementation of all-day kindergarten throughout the district. 

The move was approved after the approval of the bond project and since being implemented, it has been a good experience. 

“We knew it was what would be best for the students. There were some logistical things that would need to be worked out, like space, so getting the new buildings built and adding more classrooms resolved that issue,” USD 480 Director of Elementary Education Lana Evans said. “We also knew we'd need additional teachers, so we were able to expedite that as well. It's been something we've all wanted to do sine we knew that's what our students would need and we finally got to the point where we could with the extra space and the quality teachers and now here we are. It's all been really positive, I don't think there were really too many naysayers.  We were really excited about it all, and then the thought came to everyone along the lines of 'Now the work begins.' We'd already done a lot of work behind the scenes and put together the budget so the board would have all of that in front of them. We also had to furnish a lot of the classrooms but that was part of all the logistics we'd put together, so it was really just a matter of if/when the board was going to approve it and then going ahead with everything. The kindergarten teachers had several meetings and had begun to prepare for what that curriculum would look like and we'd talked about what would be in the classroom as far as materials and that sort of thing. We actually lived it for a year because we felt the teachers would need some time to find out exactly what would be needed for a full-day kindergarten session, so after having that year of all-day kindergarten, we came back and fine-tuned some things that hadn't been thought of at the beginning. It's really been pretty smooth since we had all the heads working together, it was just a matter of actually doing it.”

“I will say our first grade teachers definitely feel like they were more prepared for this year because this year's first grade group was the first one to 'graduate' from all-day kindergarten, so they saw a big difference as they came up to first grade,” Meadowlark Elementary School kindergarten teacher Maureen Mulligan added. “For all-day kindergarten overall, they just have more time for both the academics and the social-emotional play and we're not trying to squeeze everything into a 3-hour session, we have the full day to fit in everything they need to fit the standards and get in that developmental play also.  It really has been a pretty smooth transition, I think everyone was really just excited about this happening. I will say from a teacher's standpoint it really helped alleviate so much stress – we wouldn't have to flip our classrooms from the morning to the afternoon and back again, just small logistical things like that.”

Mulligan and Evans talked about some of the things learned during the probationary period. 

“I would say one of the biggest adjustments was reconfiguring the curriculum to fit all-day kindergarten versus what it was for the half-day students,” Mulligan said. “And having the extra time has allowed us to also include some quiet time and vocabulary stuff. Another challenge was getting the kindergarteners themselves used to an all-day situation since they're coming to us from half-days at preschool to full days in kindergarten. They're a little tired at the end of the day, but I think that's normal, we had some students like that when we still had half-days. Another thing the first grade teachers have noticed is they don't see the students struggling through the full day at the beginning of the year since they're already used to it, so that transition for those teachers is great.”

“One of the things the administration had to deal with was mainly transportation,” Evans added. “Then with Specials, that was kind of new since they were getting kindergarten, which is a little different than first through fifth grades, so they adjusted their curriculum for the kindergarteners as well. It's also been great for our social workers and counselors, we're really meeting more of the needs of the students and their families at a younger age, which is great because that wasn't something we really could've done with our half-day program.”

Since all-day kindergarten became part of USD 480, both Mulligan and Evans said there have been many benefits already seen. 

“I would say the relationships with my students has definitely improved since I just have 18 and can have up to 21,” Mulligan said. “When I was teaching half-days, I had 42 students in one day throughout the course of that 8-hour day. So now I have only 18 students to focus on and I can get to know them and their families better and it gives me an opportunity to really teach them at their level as opposed to trying to manage 42 students. Then  with having specials and Mighty Mondays, the kindergarteners aren't isolated into their own little box like before since we didn't have the specialist teachers, so now they see some of the other teachers and have more relationships with more adults in the building besides just us they see in the kindergarten classroom. Also, with having them all day, we have the time for things like a full writing curriculum and we're not rushing through things. We also have time for even little things like snacks and just enjoy the time with the students as the children they are and not expect so much from them. ” 

“Since they are here all day, it also provides them the opportunity for more classes like P.E., which they didn't get during the half-day, and they also get exposed to the music class,” Evans added. “There's also just so much more time to be able to fit in that social-emotional stuff while fitting to those standards more thoroughly rather than cramming everything in to only a few hours. This has basically doubled their time in school, which has been very positive.  Another opportunity with our redesign is some of the innovative things we're working to put in like the Mighty Mondays. A lot of the different personalized learning, it allows us to do that more efficiently because our teachers know who their students are and what their faces look like and they get to know them on a lot of different levels, which then helps the students since they're here all day and interacting with different students at different levels. They're also part of the school family, which every building has, so that allows the kindergarteners to be part of that family, whereas if you had just the afternoon students or just the morning students, you wouldn't really be able to do that.”

The reactions from kindergarten parents has also been positive, according to Evans and Mulligan. 

“I've heard a lot of positive things because I know finding transportation for the half-day kindergarteners could be a bit of a challenge along with finding babysitters or other childcare,” Mulligan said. “Now, parents are able to drop their kindergarteners off along with their siblings and they're also getting breakfast, lunch and a snack, so I really think parents are excited about it.”

“I would agree with that, the parents really are excited. It probably did create quite a few challenges having a half-day student and finding transportation and after-school care, so having that all-day schedule really does make it easier,” Evans said. “Parents are also seeing their students coming home with much more vocabulary and social skills and independence and things like since they're engaged all day long with their classmates.”

And the future of all-day kindergarten looks very bright. 

“It's really becoming the norm for the district, so I think our teachers are becoming more and more creative about giving the students more opportunities for that dramatic play while also working in the academic side of everything,” Mulligan said. “We just have the time to let them grow up and I really see great things for going into first grade and beyond.  I'm really happy the district went this way, I think it's just such a positive thing for our students to be able to learn all day and have the meals and things like that and have a safe and inclusive environment.”

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