WEST CHICAGO – In an effort to keep up with rising expectations for kindergartners, West Chicago Elementary School District 33 is piloting an all-day kindergarten program at Gary Elementary School this year, with hopes of extending it to other schools in the future.
Full-day kindergarten had been a dream in the district for several years and became part of the district’s Strategic Plan in 2011, said Gina Steinbrecher, District 33 community relations specialist. With the expansion of Leman Middle School of West Chicago complete, the space to match the need opened up.
Sixth-graders moved from District 33 elementary schools into the middle school this year, creating room at Gary School to house more kindergartners at the same time as part of a full-day program.
Now that Next Generation Science Standards have joined Common Core Standards for math and language arts in the district, academic goals for kindergartners are more ambitious than ever, said Stephanie Drake, one of four all-day kindergarten teachers at Gary.
“Kindergarten isn’t what it used to be, by any means,” Drake said.
By the end of kindergarten, students will be able to add and subtract, write three to five sentences on a topic and read at an appropriate level, which would include short books, she said.
Kindergartners are being taught to be critical thinkers, so instead of simply knowing their shapes, they learn how to use them to build other, larger shapes, Drake added.
Full-day kindergarten gives teachers and students more time to meet these increasingly high standards, she said.
“With Common Core rolling out, there’s so much for kindergarten to accomplish,” Drake said. “And now, at least I feel like I have time to accomplish it versus just rushing.”
With the new school day, Gary teachers have reteaching and enrichment time, which allows them to provide kindergartners with extra support or challenges when necessary. The full day also provides additional literacy time, Drake said.
Kindergarten students now have “specials,” including art, music and physical education, as well.
Gary School was chosen to pilot the program because, as District 33’s sole dual-language school, its student body comes from all over the district, making it easier to consolidate bus routes and avoid increasing transportation costs while still accommodating full-day kindergarten students, said Kristina Davis, assistant superintendent for learning.
The program includes four classes with about 30 students in each.
Gary School still offers families the option of half-day kindergarten, but less than five students are going that route, Drake said. They attend school in the morning, when the core classes are taught. Afternoons include the special classes and additional support and literacy time.
District staff are studying the possibility of bringing all-day kindergarten to the other District 33 elementary schools, and have plans to present their findings to the Board of Education in January, Davis said. The hope is to extend the program in some way for the 2014-15 school year, but more research is needed before that could happen.
“It’s been in the Strategic Plan to roll out all-day kinder district-wide, so minimally, the hope would be that at least we would have additional sites, if not all,” Davis said.