DOWNERS GROVE – The Downers Grove Grade School District 58 Board of Education on March 9 unanimously approved the district's proposal to offer an optional kindergarten enrichment and enhancement program during the 2015-16 school year.
According to Matt Rich, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, district administrators consulted with district teachers and surveyed parents prior to designing the program.
Administrators have been working diligently since April 2013 to get the program off the ground, Rich said.
"In January, we sent a survey out and had 2,000 respondents in two days," Rich said. "We had 60 percent of families saying they wanted it."
The optional kindergarten program is not a full-day kindergarten program, but was designed as a supplementary education piece, Rich said.
"We have a strong half-day kindergarten program," Rich said. "Optional kindergarten is enrichment and enhances the regular kindergarten experience."
The program is designed for 550 hours of additional instructional time, plus lunch and recess, which are time periods that should be considered necessary for five-year-olds, according to Rich.
"From a kindergarten perspective, that unstructured social time is a positive thing," he said. "The interactions and dialogues kids have during that time, there is real power to that. But it also means that some kids are getting a lunch."
Henry Puffer kindergarten teacher Carolyn Murphy said the optional program has multiple real world benefits for students.
"There is increased opportunity for social/emotional connections with peers, and increased opportunity to have hands-on activities in science and social studies," Murphy said.
There will also be extended literacy, math and problem solving activities, she added.
Students will also have more opportunities for independent learning as they rotate through learning centers from one activity to another.
Murphy said students can start with an art activity and rotate to a science activity where they are observing fish and drawing what they see and talking to their neighbors about it, then move on to listening to a story and participating in comprehension activities.
Further opportunities in music and physical education will also be part of the optional program, she said.
"We will continue to have a robust half-day academic program like we have always had," Murphy said. "I am very excited about the opportunity to expand and build on the learning that happens in the morning. To give kids time to explore and interact and build on learning is a wonderful opportunity."
The optional, fee-based program is expected to start in the district's Title 1 schools this fall. Those schools include El Sierra, Henry Puffer, Highland, Indian Trail and Kingsley. The program may expand if the community supports the endeavor, according to officials.
To enroll a student in the program, parents can expect to pay $2,400 a year, or $240 a month for 10 months during the 2015-16 school year, according to the district. The fee will cover additional personnel costs, classroom and consumable materials. There is a fee waiver process available to families that qualify.
"We are going to learn a lot this year," Rich said. "We found starting small and building can be successful, and really giving a chance to learn and build the program will make a stronger community and experience for our children."
For more information about the optional kindergarten program, parents should contact their home school directly, or go to www.dg58.org.