SL parents offer support for switch to all-day kindergarten

Marie Havenga • Jul 21, 2015 at 11:24 AM

The district is expected to transition to full-time kindergarten this fall because of changes in state funding and research that backs up the benefits of more classroom time for youngsters.

The new schedule will include three recesses, a literacy block, science/social studies/life skills, a math block, rest and reading, purposeful play, and “specials” — such as art, gym and technology.

Bev Hundley, director of curriculum for Spring Lake Public Schools, said 65 percent of kindergartners across the country attend full-day classes and research has shown better attendance with no increased levels of fatigue. Hundley said many districts in Michigan have already transitioned to full-day kindergarten.

The full-day schedule will increase classroom time from 540 hours to at least 1,080 hours, and provide for more “purposeful play” and educational time.

Kindergartners will attend from 8:35 a.m. to 3:35 p.m., the same as other elementary grades.

“We are welcoming them into the rest of their education,” Hundley told a crowd of about 80, noting that next year’s kindergarten group will be the Class of 2025. “It’s a very special time and it needs special attention.”

A committee of teachers and elementary principals presented their recommendations after hundreds of hours of research.

The committee also recommend that the board discontinue the district’s Young Fives program, provide paraprofessional support in kindergarten classrooms and provide a week-long summer kindergarten camp for children who have not experienced preschool. The committee also encouraged applying for a state readiness program for children with challenges to learning.

Several audience members praised the Young Fives program, and asked if there’s any way the district could continue it.

John and Pam Saber of Nunica said their son, Austin, is in Young Fives.

“It’s really helped him a lot,” Pam said. “I think he would have struggled without it. If they could do both, it would be great.”

Pam said she is also concerned about class size with the new schedule. However, the Sabers said they’re excited about the opportunity for additional learning time.

“There may be a little fatigue for the kids,” John said, “but long-term, I don’t think they will suffer from any bad affects. I think they did a good job presenting and they obviously brought their research with them. We’ll deal with it as it comes.”

Hundley said research shows children benefit more from full-day kindergarten than from Young Fives prep work. Committee members also said that several area day care facilities are considering filling the pre-kindergarten niche with additional programs beginning next fall.

“I think it’s great,” Ferrysburg resident Chris Wright said of the new schedule. “Kids need to be challenged. They need to get out of the house and be exposed to learning.”

Hundley noted that some children may grow tired or even drift off as they adjust to the all-day schedule, but she predicts they will quickly adapt.

“In a couple of weeks, I think people will be surprised at their stamina,” Hundley said. “This is 21st-century learning. Education is different now. Society is different. Childhood is different. This is an exciting time. I think the opportunities here are tremendous.”

“I’m excited about the opportunity for kids to have a full day of learning,” Spring Lake resident Samantha Verplank said. “I’m hoping they implement some foreign language element.”

Superintendent Dennis Furton, whose son is in kindergarten this year, said he’s confident children will benefit from the full-day schedule.

“It’s a great opportunity for our students,” he said. “In a full-day program, they’re going to flourish.”

The board is expected to vote on the committee recommendations at its March 19 meeting.

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