According to current research, about 20% of our children come to the kindergarten classroom at age five with the reading and math skills of a three-year-old, and another 20% possess the skills of a four-year-old upon their entrance. For this reason, kindergarten teachers begin the first day of school attempting to supplement and remediate the needs of 40% of their delayed students. This scenario is predicted to continue throughout the educational career of these students.
If a student has a strong foundation, they will continue to demonstrate skills on or above level, and if not, they will most likely have challenges. Achievement gaps in both math and reading are already evident before the first day of kindergarten (Fielding, Lynn, Extraordinary Parents, 2009).
Child development studies indicate that the impact of learning and development is most prevalent in the preschool years. Opportunities for learning need to occur in these early years, otherwise the child may have difficulty developing a specific skill at a later time.
Schools have held the responsibility of providing programs that will allow struggling students to “catch up,” beginning in kindergarten and continuing through high school. It is an escalating challenge for our educators.
There are several factors that contribute to these developmental delays. When a child is deprived of a language-rich environment, has limited social interactions, and has not been exposed to problem-solving opportunities, they are not prepared for the expectations and dynamics of the typical and traditional classroom.
The amount of language exposure varies among children. Some children have been read to and have been spoken to consistently in their home, and others have been limited. A child who is read to daily absorbs several more hours of structured language than the child who does not have this opportunity.
Some children have attended preschool programs and have received a background of skills to enhance what has occurred in the home. Other children have been more limited and isolated in their family upbringings.
Our Andover community is fortunate to have quality preschool settings accessible to our children. Some families, however, do not have the ability or have made the decision against enrolling their children in these programs.
No Child Left Behind, Core Curriculum Standards, and Statewide Assessments have demanded a higher level of rigor for even the youngest of students. Academic skills are required in defining expectations for entrance to kindergarten. Literacy skills include: knowing the shapes and sounds of 12 to 15 alphabet letters; repeating and hearing beginning and ending sounds in words; having a 5,000-word vocabulary, and speaking in complete sentences, to name a few.
Math skills involve: counting by rote to 20; recognizing numbers of objects to 10; naming and sorting shapes by color and size, among others.
There are other academics along with social skills that are expected to be mastered before kindergarten begins, such as remaining on task, following directions, and cooperating with peers (taken from Grade Level Expectations/Common Core State Standards, December 2012). With the exception of those children who have severe disabilities, most can learn these basic skills before entering school, but many do not.
In order to learn, a student must be able to communicate through reading, writing, speaking, and receiving language. It has been stated that in the period between kindergarten through the third grade, a student learns to read, and beginning in the fourth grade a student reads to learn. Educators have the responsibility of teaching students to read early and read fluently. It is the foundation for all other skills. Therefore, it is relevant to provide as much intervention as possible to achieve this goal for each student at the primary level.
From the economic standpoint, investing in early education programming and supportive services can prevent long-term expenses in the area of Special Education. As students develop skills and self-confidence in their abilities, they become more motivated towards learning. In the future, there will be lower dropout rates, and a higher percentage of students will move on to postsecondary educational opportunities. Schools are expected to prepare our students to become productive and competent employees, having acquired the necessary skills to contribute to society. Supporting our early education programs is an investment in our future.
A warrant article will be proposed to the taxpayers of the Andover School District at School District Meeting on Monday, March 4, asking for support in appropriating funding for the salary and benefits of a kindergarten teacher. The hiring of this position will allow the district to offer a full-day kindergarten program.
Full-day kindergarten has many advantages, including a smoother transition to the first grade. Students develop self-esteem and stamina, ready to approach the routine and structure of the years ahead. The “whole child” instructional approach received in the full-time kindergarten program benefits students academically, socially, artistically, and physically with multisensory activities and lessons. Teachers are able to provide more observation time of individual students and are able to focus on any potential learning issues, developing intervention strategies. More time is spent on reading instruction compared to what is available in a part-time program.
From the perspective of Special Education professionals, early intervention is a preventive strategy towards further learning challenges, and this can be accomplished for many students if enrolled in a full-time kindergarten program.
In the February 2013 issue of The Andover Beacon, Andover Elementary/Middle School Kindergarten Classroom Teacher Laura Witt describes the time constraints of her current program, being able to devote approximately 90 minutes daily to core academics in a “typical” week. For the 40% of students mentioned above who enter school below grade level, there is extra time, teaching, and guidance required to support their areas of deficit beginning on that first day of school.
To accomplish this, along with providing for the needs of the average child and the student in need of enrichment challenges, is an enormous task. Preparing our children by providing them with a solid foundation through the provision of time and resources is not an aspiration, but a necessity. Our goal as educators is to help each and every child to become successful. Community support is relevant in advocating for School District Warrant Article 6. “It takes a village.”