Stonington took a step forward at the beginning of this school year with the launch of full-day kindergarten classes. Half-day classes for the youngest students is now a thing of the past and for the sake of their education, we believe it is in their best interest.
The town is one of many districts in the state that launched full-day kindergarten this fall. Last year, 73 districts, seven charter schools and 11 magnet schools around the state offered full-day kindergarten. So, in this regard, Stonington is not setting any precedents with its decision, it is merely catching up.
Education leaders believe full-day kindergarten is vital for students to flourish, particularly now that Connecticut has adopted the Common Core State Standards, a rigorous new set of K-12 education benchmarks. Stonington Superintendent Van W. Riley saw the beginning of the program last week as a necessity. He pushed to find money in the budget to make it a reality.
“This is something the district has talked about for a decade or more,” Riley said. “It was really a financial thing. We had the staff and facilities, we just had to shift some things around and reprioritize in a short amount of time. I’m proud we were able to do it.”
Other school administrators like West Vine Street Principal Alicia Sweet Dawe said that staff really wanted to see it happen because they believe it will better prepare the students for entry into the elementary grades.
Kindergartners at Deans Mill and West Vine will follow a regular school day schedule, starting school at 8:50 a.m. and finishing at 3:25 p.m. While that might seem like a long day for these young children, it is not that unlikely that they would spend the same amount of time or more in a daycare facility that offered some structure and educational opportunities.
Spending time in the school will acquaint them with a classroom setting and the structure of a school day, as well as offer them exposure to math and a language arts curriculum.
On the first day of school last week one mother said she agreed with the full day of classes. She had an older daughter who experienced half-days and noted that “by the time they have their snack and rest, they’re not getting much else.”
West Vine and Deans Mill schools each have four large kindergarten classrooms, and Deans Mill has an extra space that the four classes will share. Extra space at both schools was created by transferring preschool classes to the administration building and Stonington High School.
Each school has four classes — West Vine’s average class size is 16 students; Deans Mill’s average class size is 16 to 17 students, and that seems like the right amount for a kindergarten class.
The total cost of running the kindergarten program is about $435,000, which includes teacher salaries. About $75,000 of that total comes from new funding for the full-day program. The additional money is for paraprofessionals, or instructional aides, and materials and equipment. The district reassigned 4.5 teaching positions from previous assignments.
We believe the money is being well spent and commend Riley for his leadership on this issue.