by Jonathan Weaver
Beginning in the 2016-2017 school year, Armstrong School District elementary schools will include full-day kindergarten.
School District board directors approved the recommendation in April after the proposal was presented by then-Coordinator of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment (K-6) Dr. Cheryl A. Soloski and individual teachers.
“A child’s kindergarten success in reading is a very, very strong predictor of their reading achievement as they progress through their school years. A full-day kindergarten program would provide all children with opportunities for substantial increases in time devoted to individual work, cooperative group work and child-initiated activities – such as free play and learning centers,” Soloski said.
Soloski also said studies have shown students who participate in full-day kindergarten are both “academically and socially prepared for primary-grade learning.” Academically, this also contributes to language development as well as the opportunities to explore social studies and science concepts.
Social skills that can be taught through a full-day program include sharing, working with others, making choices and self-discipline.
Kindergarten Department Chair (and teacher) Pam McCanna said the full-day program will enable teachers to implement their full curriculum when it comes to reading and math. She said teachers have had to streamline reading before this year, and that this year will also enable some small-group instruction.
“A full-day would offer benefits for all students of all ability levels,” McCanna said.
Leslie Vandegrift, who taught kindergarten students in both the morning and afternoon last school year at West Hills Primary in East Franklin Township, said there are “absolutely” more incentives to the full-day program – the most-important of which being “more time.”
“More time to let them be kids, give them more opportunities for learning, for self-directed learning, for time with technology with computers and the iPads,” Vandegrift said. “I felt that they were more stressed when they were at school because they (knew) the amount of material we (had) to cover every day, so this will give them more opportunities to self-direct (and) work together with their friends.”
The former Elderton Junior/Senior High Librarian, Vandegrift has been a West Hills Primary kindergarten teacher for seven years. Last school year, she had 42 students – 20 in the morning and 22 in the afternoon.
“And that’s a lot of students to be tracking and record-keeping and trying to give individualized attention to,” Vandegrift concluded. “It’ll be nice to be able to focus a little bit more with just half of those students.”
School Board President Joseph Close thought the move had a lot of benefits after receiving an equal-amount of faculty support.
“It’s a move that we’ve been needing to make and we had the opportunity to do it now after bringing it up again,” Close said in April. “I think it’s a good educational move for us.”
School Superintendent Chris DeVivo said the proposal was reviewed during two months at the beginning of the calendar year.
Kindergarten orientations were held this month to provide back-to-school information to parents. In addition to the orientations, the district will host Back-to-School Nights to review curriculum and program offerings with parents in all schools followed by parent conferences during the month of October.
Both elementary and secondary parents will also be able to view test scores, missing assignments, check grades, monitor attendance, email teachers and school officials, see bus schedules and more through the district’s new Student Information System and Financial System for the 2016-2017 school year.
According to district officials, the portal also includes a secure message center where teachers and administrators can post information and communicate with families about their child, school, and classroom events.
Parent information sessions will be offered throughout the school year.