Isn’t a full day of school exhausting for a bunch of 5-year-olds? You bet, says their likewise exhausted kindergarten teacher Lauren Mitchell.
She and her class are winding down a busy seven hours staying engaged and focused on a long list of lessons and activities — none of which, incidentally, is nap time.
“There’s still that idea that it’s finger-painting and Play-Doh, and it’s not,” said Mitchell, who teaches at Kennedy School. “We are adding, we are subtracting, we are reading, we are rhyming, we are writing sentences — two, three sentences.”
As the Kansas Legislature considers Gov. Sam Brownback’s proposal to fund full-day kindergarten statewide, Lawrence is in its second year of offering the program at every district elementary school at no extra cost to parents.
Providing full-day kindergarten costs Lawrence schools $1.8 million a year. According to the district, half comes from the general fund and the other half from at-risk funds the district receives from the state based on the number of its students receiving free- and reduced-price lunches.
“We’ve got a ton of needs, but we think that all-day kindergarten is important enough that we place the high priority on it,” Superintendent Rick Doll said.
In kindergarten, routines are huge.
A visit to Mitchell’s class this week revealed a fast-moving, physically engaging and colorful yet highly structured schedule.
At 10 a.m., students have finished math and are sitting on a carpet before an interactive whiteboard dragging pictures into categories — animal part or not animal part? — then listening to poems and picking out words that rhyme.
By 10:20 they’re back at desks hand-writing letters and short words to match the sounds Mitchell reads aloud. At 10:30 they start rotating through reading stations including laptop computers, hardback books and around-the-room word hunts.
Kamarre Farmer drags his finger across a digital tablet to turn the page of a book called “ZooBorns.”
“His name is Beco,” Kamarre repeats aloud after listening to a passage accompanying a photo of a baby elephant. Then, “Elephants are the largest animals of the land!”
In the window seat across the room, the hardback books Cody Rosebaugh and Brooklynn Clark picked out are above kindergarten reading level. They talk to each other about the words and numbers they do recognize while turning pages and pointing out pictures.
Shortly after 1 p.m., with just two hours left in the school day, there’s still a lot to do. Thanks to a cluster of picture labels on the board — removed after each task is complete — the students know exactly what’s left and in what order: writing, P.E., recess, pack-up, snack, story, go home.
“You need to have rich, engaging materials curriculum, and if you don’t have that you’re going to have a hard time teaching,” Mitchell said.
Early in the year, attention spans hovered around 10 minutes at best, Mitchell said. To combat teacher tune-out, she’d inject intermissions like getting up to dance around, and little by little that time grew.
“Now they can give me, really, about 40 minutes,” she said. “At this time of year that’s what I expect.”
Full-day kindergartners have noticeably more “stamina” and already understand the routine of school when they arrive in Mary Pendry’s first-grade class.
“They’re not asking us, ‘Is it time to go home?’ before we’ve even had lunch,” Pendry said. “They’re just in a better position to learn for a longer period of time.”
Pendry has been with the district 25 years and has taught first-grade at Quail Run School the past six.
Since Quail Run added full-day kindergarten two years ago, Pendry has had fewer first-graders who didn’t go to kindergarten in the district.
Since kindergarten isn’t mandatory, Pendry said a number of parents chose full-day programs at preschools over half-day kindergarten at public schools. While those aren’t bad, she said, continuity in curriculum from in-district kindergarten helps students hit the ground running in her class.
State funding of full-day kindergarten would require an increase of $16 million per year for the next five years, Brownback said in a newsletter this week.
He and other proponents say studies show students go on to be more involved and productive at school. Opponents have balked at the cost, suggesting limiting funds to areas that show a bigger need and collecting more data on results.
In Kansas, 15 districts offer only half-day kindergarten and a number of others offer full-day but parents must pay.
Doll said state-funding of full-day kindergarten would allow the Lawrence district to use more at-risk funds for other programs. In the meantime, he said he’s not surprised that of the district’s 845 kindergarten students, only about five choose not to stay all day.
“I think they (parents) recognize, like we do, that getting kiddos started at an early age is very, very important,” he said. “It’s a little bit of a no-brainer ... why wouldn’t you?”