This article first appeared in the January 19th, 2012 edition of the Vermont Standard.
By Gwen Stanley
Woodstock Elementary School will commence with a full-day Kindergarten program this fall, after a 2-0 vote was passed last Tuesday to approve the plan.
The current day for Kindergarteners is from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., and a full day program will extend that day until 2:50 p.m.
The board had been considering a move to a full-day program for some time now, according to WES School Board Chair Paige Hiller.
“We explored it a couple years ago when it was my first time on the board,” Hiller said, “but we didn’t get a good reaction at that time, and decide there was no need to push it.”
This time around, though, Principal Karen White presented surveys to parents and staff and found the reaction was much more positive now.
The board cited several reasons for advocating for a full-time program.
“In the 8 a.m. to 12:30 program, with state regulations these days, we’re jamming a lot of information into these kids and they really still need time to explore and socialize,” said Hiller.
“Our budget is looking pretty good at this point,” Hiller said. “We’re at a good place budget-wise. I always ask, are we saving or are we flat? As long as we’re not losing, I’m good.”
The plan at this time is to use funds previously use for a remedial reading program after school, which is now staffed by Nancy Stockwell.
Principal Karen White said this week that moving the money spent on that toward full-time kindergarten is workable now because not many students are utilizing the remedial reading program at this time.
“Because of the fact, that we can reduce (the program) this is a good time to do it. Whereas another time we might not be able to take that away,” she said.
White points out that this doesn’t indicate a broader move away from support services for the school.
“We are still ready to and do provide support services — I don’t want to send the message that I’m not thinking of that, because we absolutely are,” she said.
Woodstock resident Steve Thomas said Monday that while he agrees that a full day may work for some kids, he objects to the notion that the change won’t have an effect on taxpayers at all.
“To pass it off as not an increase is erroneous, because there will be some change,” he said. “However, I would defer to those with children.”
Another consideration is the possibility of consolidation in local schools’ future, which could send students of smaller schools to Woodstock for kindergarten through sixth grade.
“With smaller schools probably closing down in five or ten years, a full-day kindergarten makes us a better options for those schools. When we were talking to Reading about the possibility of them coming to our school, they raised the question of full time kindergarten — that would be very important to traveling parents who would have to drive midday out to Woodstock.”
Advocates of full-day kindergarten cite increased school readiness, academic achievement, and better attendance in kindergarten and through the primary grades. Woodstock Elementary School teachers responded to an electronic survey sent by White with a vote of 15 in favor of the measure and three against it, with one vote not applicable.
In asking for feedback from parents and townspeople, Principal Karen White said, comments from parents included those with both perspectives on the issue. Some expressed concern about the long day being too much for children.
“I still believe that five-year-olds should not be in school all day,” said one who commented.
“I know they go to daycare and after-kindergarten care, but it’s not the same as school. Kindergarten now is too academic and I worry that if we go to full day, then it will become more academic, just an excuse for more lessons to “get ready for first grade.”
Other comments were positive, saying “In these economic times, full-day kindergarten is better for families with two working parents and for single parents.” Many of those suggested a rest period was necessary so as not to tire the children out.
White said that she feels strongly that kindergartens are at a good age to be in school for those hours and will benefit from the socialization as well as from a more unstructured time during the longer day to play and rest.