Full-day Kindergarten is coming to a school near you this fall. Glenview/Northbrook District 30 and Deerfield District 109 are the latest two districts that unanimously voted to institute full-day Kindergarten the past few weeks. Together, they add to the 90% of Illinois schools that now offer extended-day schedules for young learners, marking a considerable shift away from morning- or afternoon-only schooling that had long been in place. Also, Glencoe recently assembled a committee to study the option at a March 2 session, and two parents in Wilmette are circulating a petition seeking full-day Kindergarten in District 39.
“We’ve been talking about full-day Kindergarten in our district for a couple of years now,” said Dr. Melissa Hirsch, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction in District 30 who will oversee the program once implemented at Willowbrook School for the 2015-2016 school year. “We were really looking at the timing and best opportunity for us. It seemed right to do so now, and we had a lot of support from parents, teaching staff and the Board of Education. All three of those stakeholder groups have been very important in lining up this program.”
Hirsch said that overall everyone involved has been in favor of the idea, evidenced by the absence of concerns raised during a series of public forums. Some parents did have questions, mostly wondering about opting out their child if the situation was not conducive for them or if they did not agree with the enrollment. “This is not a forced program,” Hirsch said. “When you offer full-day Kindergarten there is also a provision that you have to offer half-days, so if a parent feels it is not right for their child or they are not interested, we will find an option for them.”
Yet with the full-day structure, park district programs will be cut, which have normally been the most affordable option for parents needing extended-day options. The Northbrook Park District’s Kinder Care extended-day program, which works out of Willowbrook for District 30 kids, costs parents $377/month for five days a week, $222 for three days, and $128 for two, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Hirsch said figures will still be comparable, since most of the increased costs will be absorbed internally. “The good thing is that in our research we did put together some long-range planning. We actually found some decreases in spending, such as eliminating a couple of the bus routes we had running during the day, which we won’t have to operate any longer. There are some staffing increases, but overall that’s a minimal cost and in our budget.”
The process has been resolved so efficiently that it has others wondering why their school districts can’t do the same. In Wilmette, two parents, Amy Poehling and Dan Johnson, recently started circulating a petition seeking full-day Kindergarten in their schools beginning in the 2015-2016 school year. So far they have 130 signatures and plan to file it with the Wilmette School Board at a meeting on March 23.
The fact that full-day Kindergarten is a popular option is two-fold. Many households now represent two full-time working parents, which is coupled with a wealth of research collected that shows benefits of the program—something that Hirsch can stand behind.
“The demands of the curriculum have changed in the last three years,” she said. “We believe the social-emotional piece is critical at this early stage and want to be able to structure more problem solving and sharing skills into the program while keeping true to the learning process. Now we can do both.”