As the new school year unfolds, kindergarten teachers in Southington are already raving about the new opportunities and, most heavily noted, the more time they have to work with kids.
This is Jeanne Petracca’s second year teaching kindergarten at Thalberg Elementary School, but her overall experience with kids spans 35 years. The new all-day program, she said, is new to her.
“It’s given me more time to already get to learn the children and know what their needs are,” Petracca said. “It’s allowed me to have them have the time for social play and to get to know each other and to have some fun.”
Gretchen Yatzook is teaching full-day kindergarten at Flanders Elementary School. This is her first year teaching kindergarten after teaching it from 2002-04. She said her students are excited and anxious to experience all of the planned activities.
“It’s a lot easier to get in everything that you want to do with the students,” Yatzook said. “Because when you had a half day, you just felt crunched to put in everything not only academically, but you do want to have the social development time, and with a half day program it was just so hard to get everything in that you possibly could.”
Kathy Magnoli has been teaching overall for about 20 years. She has prior experience teaching full day kindergarten in a different district, but has been teaching the half day program at Hatton Elementary School for the past four years. Magnoli said she was very excited when Southington decided to go to the full day program based on her positive experiences with it previously. She said the two most important things the full day program provides is the opportunity to really get to know the students and their families and also the time to really get into the curriculum.
“You have the extra time to build that rapport with the family which I think is really important at this young age,” Magnoli said.
With the extra time, Magnoli said now if she does a reading or science lesson, she can integrate it into other lessons.
“You can incorporate all your teaching in all of the areas,” she said.
At South End Elementary School, kindergarten teachers Paula Gorham and Michelle Daigle are just as excited as anyone about the program. Drawbacks amongst any of the teachers were sparse to find, but if anything, Daigle and Gorham said the only tricky part is organizing the lunches – something they didn’t have to handle when students were there for only a half-day.
“A lot of the concerns with the parents were about the lunch situation than them being here all day,” Gorham said.
There was some nervousness before the start of the school year, Daigle and Gorham said, but the year so far has run so smoothly. Some relief was offered as a committee including Assistant Superintendent Karen Smith put together a curriculum guideline for teachers so not to elicit an overwhelming amount of pressure as the new program began.
“We worried all summer pretty much for nothing because it really has just flowed and worked out,” Daigle said.
Yatzook said the students get to interact with the rest of the school, something she considered an added benefit. Before, she said, the kindergarten program seemed isolated from the rest of the school.
“Being here through lunch and recess, everyone’s getting to know these students as part of the school, not just part of the kindergarten program,” she said. “I feel like now the kindergarten has become more part of the entire school than it was before.”
Yatzook said she’s able to go more in-depth with her lessons. Now, after reading a book, she can do enrichment activities with the students that supplement the story instead of having to move on to something else because of time constraints.
“In a half day program you wouldn’t be able to get to everything like that,” Yatzook said. “But in a full day you can go deeper into each little thing you want to, not just touch on it briefly.”
Though the summer committee’s planning was a helpful boost, teachers have still had to do more planning for their days. At the same time, kids are now given more choices on what they want to learn through activity centers like painting, blocks, and Play-Doh, among other things.
“What we’re hoping to do is personalize learning in terms of what do [they] want to learn about,” Petracca said.
Being a full day now, kids might be expected to get a bit exhausted, but on the contrary, teachers report that tiredness isn’t really a problem. Gorham and Daigle said the kids are given a 20 minute rest period, which shows to be enough to recharge their batteries.
“Those concerns I think are gone even for the kids who’ve napped over the summer,” Daigle said. “They’re not napping here, they’re having great days here.”