District unveils its full-day kindergarten plan

| 22 Mar 2012 | 12:18

WEST MILFORD — The West Milford Board of Education has proposed adding a full-day kindergarten program to be implemented in all six elementary schools in its 2012-2013 budget. It's an idea that has been discussed for years and now it is in the budget that residents will be voting on next month.

Director of Education Iris Wechling gave an overview of the program at Tuesday night's board meeting.

“When the budget development process began, the elementary principals were an integral part in talking about what considerations should be given to the elements in implementing a full-day kindergarten program and moving from the half-day program we currently have,” said Wechling.

Insights shared Paradise Knoll Principal Jennifer Cenatiempo, a former kindergarten teacher of both half-day and extended-day programs in Wycoff and Westwood, said half-day programs felt rushed to her. By the time students would get in and unpacked, start “circle time” or “morning meeting” and share a story, it would then be time for snack, socialization, some math concepts, explorations, a “special,” such as art, gym, or library, and then it would be time for dismissal, she said.

“Kindergarten is designed to be an exploration, so science, social studies, and math are all interwoven through units of study and it is all very hands-on,” Centiempo added, “In my extended day experience I didn’t feel that frantic pace. I would have kids come to me knowing nothing of the alphabet and leave me reading.”

“Kindergarten is a passion of mine,” Centiempo continued.

Early stages of planning Wechling said important points to be addressed at this stage of planning for the full-day kindergarten program are children’s developmental needs, readiness, and how they can be addressed as part of their school experience. She presented parameters from the New Jersey State Department of Education Web site on which their considerations are based.

“To provide a multi-sensory and experiential learning environment in which all students succeed, to nurture responsibility and independence, to develop a positive attitude towards learning in varied experiences, relate and work collaboratively with peers, and to develop and strengthen emotional, social and academic needs of all children at their individual pace.”

Ahead of the game Upper Greenwood Lake Principal Dan Novak presented the literacy-based components of the program. He said the program recommended by the state - such as shared reading, independent reading, read aloud, and writing workshop - are all things the district has been implementing over the past few years. He said it is "very exciting" that the district is ahead of the game as they put together their full-day kindergarten program.

According to Novak, research shows that, in literacy learning, “when students are explicitly taught specific reading strategies, they are going to get better at reading.” He said expanding the time spent in kindergarten on literacy concepts will help kids grow and learn. He also joked he would like to have a kindergarten program that spent all of its time on literacy.

The truth about kindergarten Wechling read from an NJ.gov booklet called “The Truth About Kindergarten.”

“Kindergarten is the place for young children to learn. It must be ready for them so that their learning is unhampered and they can try out new skills without fear of mistakes. Kindergarten is a time of growth, experimentation, and a budding understanding of the world and their place within it.

"Kindergarten children learn by experiencing the world around them. They explore, examine, and try to figure out what everything means. They cannot yet do things perfectly, but every day, they learn something new. It doesn’t happen all at once, yet as they progress, they get closer and closer to speaking clearly, recognizing letters and sounds, understanding and creating stories, counting real things, adding and subtracting, and dividing their blocks evenly among their friends.”

“In a simple statement, that is our goal: to create a high-quality, full-day kindergarten,” said Wechling.

Comments on the program Trustee John Aiello, who has been a proponent of full-day kindergarten for years, said he wants to have specific questions answered about the program. Wechling said that would come later; this presentation was just informative for the board and the public.

“Lay people that are not in the business of education still have opinions of what education should be, and I think that those opinions should be expressed," said Aiello.

Aiello said he previously discussed his thoughts about full time kindergarten with former Superintendent Bernice Colefield and would like to get a reaction from educators on whether his ideas are appropriate or need modification.

“My idea of full-time kindergarten is not that we add more but that we - well the goals I discussed with Bernice Colefield was one- that we have time to fully do the business that the half-time kindergarten requires, and that we have more time to develop it as something that learning is fun. And the other goal is that there are some kids that need more attention for whatever reason, and so that the staff would have more time to devote to those children, more than some of the ones that don’t need as much; and so that when they go into first grade, everybody is ready to go and everybody looks at it as a positive, fun, great adventure of learning.”

Trustee Barbara Carter was all in favor of Novak's comment to focus solely on literacy at one of the schools.

“Maybe it would be worth trying that at one school," said Carter. "It’s not a joke, I’m serious. I want to say let’s really push literacy in one kindergarten and see if it makes a difference.”

Resident Allison Ragonese Scully, a self described lifelong resident of West Milford, parent, mother, and taxpayer, said she was grateful for the plans for full-day kindergarten.

“I really just want to say thank you to everybody that is working on the full-day kindergarten program, to help continue to foster a love for learning starting with our young children in this community," said Ragonese Scully. "I think it has been a long time coming and I’d like to applaud everybody’s efforts.”

Last week, the Messenger heard from Hewitt resident Who Last name who was against the full-day kindergarten.

"Quote from last week's letter.

She made the point that more time spent in school would mean doing even less academics since the children must also eat lunch and sometimes nap.

What are your thoughts on moving to a full-day kindergarten program in the township? Go to westmilfordmessenger.com and tell us what you think.

For more information on full-day kindergarten, go to www.state.nj.us/education/ece/guide/KindergartenGuidelines.pdf.