The case for kindergarten

Passing Amendment 66 in November will give free, full-day kindergarten to every eligible child in Colorado. Colorado Education Association’s member magazine, CEA Journal, paid a visit to Janet Snow, Jefferson County EA member, and her kindergarten class at Secrest Elementary in Arvada. Snow, a teacher with 18 years of teaching experience, told us why early childhood education is so critical for a student’s success in school and life.

janet snow1 Journal: “Take me through the activities you did today.”

Snow: “Our class today was working on learning letters and sounds, and learning to be writers by communicating ideas through drawing pictures, then putting labels and words with those pictures. They’re learning fluency for reading in a listening center activity, and they’re also doing tactile, fine-motor activity with some glue and feathers.”

Q: “So it’s not Play-Doh and naptime. What’s the public’s perception of kindergarten compared to what it is?”

A: “When I was in kindergarten, we learned the Pledge of Allegiance, we learned our address and telephone number, how to write our name and tie our shoes. We were there two hours, then went home, ate lunch and took a nap. And everyone has that first memory of school in their head, and so they hold onto it. Nowadays, that’s not what kindergarten is. It’s changed a lot.”

Q: “How has kindergarten changed?”

A: “We’ve dropped that bar down to where kindergarten is really what first grade used to be, and our outcomes are reading at a pretty proficient level, and learning to write a cohesive five sentence story with a topic sentence, three supporting details, and a closing sentence. We count, do number computations – quite a few things across the board.”

janet snow15Q: “Now we’re trying to pass Amendment 66, and one of the things it would fund is full-day kindergarten across the state. What kind of a game changer would it be for Colorado education if every child attended kindergarten?”

A: “Every child needs to attend kindergarten, for sure. I think that there’s no way you’re prepared for first grade if you don’t. Our first-grade team spends a lot of time trying to catch up students who are not fully prepared. The ones that came later to our program and didn’t start kindergarten until January or February were that much further behind. And so that intervention and that catch-up starts, and it’s very frustrating for students to enter first grade and be behind.”

Q: If students miss that year of kindergarten, how do you think it affects them when they’re in fourth grade, eighth grade, maybe even when they’re a senior in high school?

A: “If you get behind at the beginning, it affects you for the rest of your life. I think that you would consistently say, ‘I was bad at school. This is hard for me. I can’t do what my peers can do.’ People judge themselves by the bar of others, and so that would be consistently a problem for them, even later on in life. I hear parents tell me, ‘Well, school was really hard for me.’ So that is still something they remember as a negative. We can’t be feeling that way about ourselves as good, positive, productive community members.”

Q: “Right now in a lot of places in Colorado, full-day kindergarten is something parents pay for. How does that sit with you?”

A: “I don’t like that model, because it comes down to the haves and the have-nots, and that consistently is a problem in education. We need to make appropriate public education available to all students.”

Q: “If your students in this school did not have free full-day kindergarten, what would they be missing today?”

A: “They would be missing their socializing time with a curriculum piece that we call play centers, where they do free play and some imaginative play, working on problem solving skills with their peers. They would be missing social studies content and science content, and they would not have opportunities for enrichment, or for intervention if they fall behind.”

janet snow9Q: “I counted 24 kids in here today. Is that a lot for kindergarten?”

A: “That’s actually a breath of fresh air. We had 32 in kindergarten last year, so eight fewer is a relief. This is one of the lowest years I’ve had in the seven years I’ve been here. It typically fluctuates between 27 and 29 students. Getting some legislation to mandate kindergarten in the state would help us to keep instructional levels low. Right now, the numbers just depend on need in the area and how many people are choice-enrolled. It can be a big group of students. I would say that the perfect number is 21 to 24.”

Q: Tell me a little bit about that breath of fresh air. What were the struggles you went through last year in managing that many students?

A: “Management was a lot more difficult. Meeting individual needs was a lot more difficult. Assessment and reporting was a lot more difficult, all of those things. You can give me as many hands on deck in this classroom to come in and help, but at the end of the day, I’m the only one who’s filling out report cards, I’m the only one who’s doing interventions, and I’m the one who’s responsible for that classload. And that’s a lot of individual people to serve on a one-on-one basis.”

Q: “You can watch sixth graders who used to sit in this classroom a few years ago. What’s it like to see them?”

A: “It’s emotional. You remember them as very small, young children. I tend to check in on my students periodically every year, keep tabs on how they’re all doing. It’s rewarding to see them grow up and become so much more mature. And then it’s also emotional – it’s sad to see them change so much and be so grown-up and mature.”

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