Quaker Valley ready for new full-day kindergarten

Monday, August 12, 2019 | 6:00 AM

Kindergartners in the Quaker Valley School District will have a full day of learning in 2019-20, with added time focused on art, music and physical education.

Students will even get an added afternoon snack and down time to help them recharge their batteries as they adjust to a full day of school.

This year, Quaker Valley’s kindergarten program is expanding by roughly 90 minutes to a full-day program, with kindergartners in school until 3:35 p.m., along with the rest of their elementary peers.

In recent years, Quaker Valley’s kindergartners were dismissed around 2:15 p.m.

Moving to full-day kindergarten not only allows the district to save money, but also to provide additional programming and instruction for students, said Andrew Surloff, assistant superintendent.

“It was sort of an easy decision to make,” he said.

Kindergarten through ninth-grade students head back to class Aug. 21. Grades 10 to 12 head back Aug. 22.

With the 2:15 p.m. kindergarten dismissal, the district had to have additional buses circulating to drop off students. It cost $125,000 a year for buses to run that added drop-off time, Surloff said.

While students in upper grades received art, music and physical education instruction from teachers specializing in those areas, the kindergarten classroom teachers were the ones incorporating those topics into the day.

By extending the day, kindergartners can be taught art, music and physical education by those specialized teachers, along with computer and library on a rotating schedule.

By adjusting schedules, there was no need to add staff, Surloff said.

The district conducted a survey and found that more than 70% of families supported the idea of moving to full-day kindergarten. Many working families already had been sending their child to after-school programming until they could be picked up, he said.

School board members made the decision in April 2018 to move to a full-day program. The last year was spent scheduling, planning and communicating the changes, Surloff said.

Andrea Croft, a kindergarten teacher in the district for 15 years who serves as the district’s kindergarten coordinator, said administration and teachers spent a lot of time working on the new schedule. They contacted other districts to see how their full-day programs worked.

“We put a lot of research into creating a bell schedule that we thought would be a good fit for our Quaker Valley kindergartners,” Croft said.

The morning, and up until 2:15 p.m., will look like kindergarten of old.

At the time when students would have gone home, they’ll have a snack, “a little R&R,” as Croft put it, and an added recess.

Then, they will rotate during the week through their “special” classes of art, music, physical education, computer and library, where they will now get formal instruction from teachers specialized in those areas.

“We’re looking forward to having these kindergartners here, as always. Every year is really exciting and this year is extra special,” Croft said.

Having the added formalized special classes allows the district to focus on “educating the whole child,” outside of just the traditional academics, Surloff said. Teachers also can use the extra down time, if needed, to go over lessons with students if they feel they need caught up, he said.

District leaders communicated the changes with parents at kindergarten round-up and orientation events, Surloff said.

Carmee Horton of Bell Acres, has four children. Her oldest, Madeline and Wesley, went through the three-quarter day program at Edgeworth Elementary.

“They loved it. It was just wonderful,” she said.

Her third child, Elsa, is headed to kindergarten this year. Elsa has been building up to kindergarten, attending half days at Montessori Children’s Community for the last two years.

Carmee is looking forward to the new year and full-day kindergarten program.

“I think it will be a really good experience,” she said, noting that her children do not have problems socializing. “I think that she’s just really going to blossom in this world.”

She likes that Elsa will get to experience the entire day and ride the bus home with her siblings.

“There is a big learning curve that they accomplish by watching the older children. I think it’s going to be really good for them to be more integrated into that school community,” said Carmee, whose youngest, Julia, is headed to kindergarten in a year.

Surloff cautions that some kiddos might come home tired on the first few weeks of school.

“Allow some stamina to build up,” he said. “It’s just like any new exercise. The first couple weeks, you’re a little extra sore and a little extra tired, but you build stamina and those things kind of fade away. This is a major new exercise for these young people.”