Four Rochester schools start all-day K
Minutes after the end of school, Franklin Elementary School kindergarten teacher Karmen Frana was feeling a mixture of fatigue and an adrenaline rush from the day.
Frana and her class of 26 5-year-olds had just completed Franklin's first full day of all-day, every-day kindergarten. It had been a day of teaching children basic routines: how to walk in a line with other kids, where to put backpacks in the morning, how to recognize and begin writing their names.
In the past, Frana and her teaching peers at Franklin, Franklin at Montessori, Bamber Valley and Bishop elementary schools would have taught these skills within the tight confines of a half-day program. But today, they were experiencing the expansive possibilities of a full-day program, and they were liking what the new schedule was affording them.
"It meant that we could truly teach the whole child. That you had time to actually work on the social skills pieces as well as the academic pieces," said Megan Hansen, a Franklin kindergarten teacher. "By having all day, now, you can do the same things that we were doing before but actually have depth and meaning toward those."
Prodded by new state funding that kicks in next year, the Rochester School Board agreed to introduce all-day K at four elementary schools this year and nine other schools next year once the classroom space has been built to handle all-day kindergarten. Until this year, all-day kindergarten had only been offered at Gage, Longfellow and Riverside Central among the district's 17 elementary schools.
Frana said she was "thrilled" when she first learned the district was going to all-day kindergarten. It was not only the added time that she liked, but it also was a better schedule for meeting the expectations of a grade level that has become more rigorous and demanding, she said.
"When I started teaching 16 years ago, it was colors and shapes and social skills," Frana said. "But now, the kids are expected to be reading and doing math by the end of kindergarten, and science and social skills. And to pack that in a two-and-a-half-hour day is a lot."
Proponents say children in all-day programs learn more in reading and math over the year than those those in half-day programs. They say such programs particularly benefit at-risk children, who need the extra instruction to catch up with their peers.
But critics feel all-day K is too long for children to be in school, and they are too young to be separated that long from their parents. They argue that some studies have shown half-day programs can be just as effective academically.
But during brief interviews with Franklin parents who waited to pick up their children Thursday, none communicated that sentiment.
"I'm so glad they went to all-day kindergarten," said LaiThan Dyer, whose 5-year-old son, Odin, attends Franklin. "It think it really helps. Half-day is not enough schooling."
Parents also liked that all-day kindergarten fit better with their work schedules.
"I work nights, so I get a full day of sleep," said Jamie Burnes, while holding one toddler and waiting for her 5-year-old son, Cheyne. "(One) goes to day care, and (the other) goes to school. Perfect."
Franklin kindergarten teachers say they hope to have their students reading simple books, counting to 100 and beyond and showing some ability in addition and subtraction by the end of the school year.
But beyond the purely academic, Hansen said she wants her students to begin cultivating problem-solving skills, so they can "make decisions by themselves and not have to rely on adults all the time to do those things for them."
And yes, by the end of the day, kindergarten students are tired, just as their teachers are.
"We've talked about the kids are going to be tired those first two weeks," Frana said. "They adapt. They really do."