TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN
Natalya Corbey (centre) asks a question during show and tell involving classmate Nathan Wishart's cat Spiderman in Carole McCurry’s full-day kindergarten class at George Fitton School. Wishart's mom Cat Balfour holds the cat.
As you enter Carole McCurry’s kindergarten class, you’re welcomed by an array of colourful wall art, books and toys neatly stored on shelves and pint-sized desks and chairs arranged around the room.
Students in Carole McCurry’s full-day kindergarten class dance to music at George Fitton School. (Tim Smith/Brandon Sun) (TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN)
Carole McCurry engages her students in a spelling and reading exercise during full-day kindergarten at George Fitton School. (TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN)
Carmen Hunter, Jaylyn Penner, Sofya Tymoshenko, Lachlan Sprott, Natalya Corbey and Junior Palma Nunez play in Carole McCurry’s full-day kindergarten class at George Fitton School. (TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN)
This is the learning environment McCurry and her 17 full-day, every day kindergarten students have designed themselves at George Fitton School. Since classes began last September, every student has helped blanket the walls with pictures, numbers and handwritten messages, with each addition signifying another lesson the children have learned along the way.
The Brandon School Division launched full-day, every day kindergarten as a pilot project in 2011-12. It’s now offered in six of the division’s elementary schools.
McCurry believes more time spent in the classroom at the kindergarten level leads to an easier and more successful transition into Grade 1. Data collected by the Brandon School Division also shows that a higher percentage of full-day kindergarten students, when compared to half-day students, are meeting expectations.
However, even with a wide range of information supporting the switch from half to full days, not every school division has jumped on board with the program.
Out of the six rural school divisions the Sun spoke to, the decision came down to a lack of space, funds, enrolment, and in the end, what type of program suits their community best.
The Manitoba government also doesn’t fund all-day kindergarten. Instead, the province has chosen to invest money into reducing kindergarten to Grade 3 class sizes. Despite this lack of provincial support, some rural school divisions are making the switch on their own dime.
Earlier this week, Turtle Mountain School Division trustees approved a 5.8 per cent special levy tax increase, resulting in one of the largest increases across the province. A portion of the increase is attributed to hiring two full-time teachers to accommodate the divisions’s shift to all-day, every day kindergarten in 2014, according to secretary-treasurer Kathy Siatecki.
"It’s been on our budget deliberations for the last three or four years, but this year seemed to be more of a push to do it," Siatecki said. "We’re not waiting for the province to fund us.
"In other words, it can’t happen soon enough."
In the Rolling River School Division, Erickson Elementary School is in its second year of offering full-day, every day kindergarten, Supt. Reg Klassen said. The division is also starting to review the data it has collected so far and the school board is in talks to expand the program into more schools.
"We’re still very early into the process so we need to look at the data," Klassen said. "Early indications would show that there is a benefit for students."
A couple of other rural school divisions have instead adopted their own version of all-day kindergarten.
Park West School Division is now just over a year into a three-year, 0.75 kindergarten pilot project where kindergarten students alternate between full and half days, eventually easing them into full-time.
Supt. Tim Mendel said while the division was considering a complete switch to full days, its final decision was a financial one.
"It seems to be a debate among many school divisions," Mendel said. "For a lot of them, I think it comes down to finances because one half has to be financed by just the local ratepayers."
So far, Mendel said data is showing the program is making a "big difference."
Fort La Bosse School Division, with community support, designed and implemented a Smart Start Program at Oak Lake Community School in 2010. The program combines four-year-olds with kindergarten students. Four-year-olds join the kindergartners at lunch time until spring break and then attend full time alternate days together.
So far, data indicates these students are showing growth both academically and socially, according to Supt. Barry Pitz.
"It’s proving to be quite successful in terms of school readiness for kids," Pitz said. "It’s certainly a program that’s supported by parents."
Oak Lake principal Brenda Masson said "the first of its kind program" is addressing the lack of licensed early child care and preschool programming available in the community.
The goals of the program, Masson said, are to develop early literacy, motor skills and social competencies, while using a play-based approach and a variety of hands-on learning experiences.
"This program is making a difference to these kids," she said. "The results have been very positive."
In the program’s first year, 11 out of the 13 students scored in the 90 percentile or higher for overall readiness at the conclusion of senior kindergarten, Masson said.
Beautiful Plains School Division Supt. Jason Young said they run all-day kindergarten every second day in their larger elementary schools but don’t have the space to run it in every school.
"We haven’t heard from our public that it’s in real demand," Young said.
The Southwest Horizon School Division plans to host meetings in the near future to discuss implementing full-day kindergarten in the second term, Supt. Carolyn Cory said.
"It will certainly not be happening in all of our schools for the fall of 2014 but it is our hope to pilot different scenarios according to the needs of the community," Cory said. "We want to start slowly.
"We’re looking at gathering data, pre and post data, see how the results are from there and see how we can continue."
According to BSD’s 2012-13 Student Achievement Summary Report, when compared with half-day kindergarten students, full-day students are ending the year meeting more phonological awareness expectations.
Phonological awareness is defined as an individual’s awareness of the phonological (sound) structure of spoken words and is considered an important indicator of a student’s future reading.
When tested in the fall, 16 per cent of students in full-day kindergarten were meeting phonological awareness expectations, but by spring, 80 per cent were meeting expectations. While 35 per cent of students in half-day kindergarten were meeting expectations, by spring, 72 per cent were meeting expectations in phonological awareness.
McCurry believes the biggest advantage to all-day every day kindergarten is that young students are given the "gift of time."
Students are given more time to socialize with kids their own age as well as more time to work on their fine motor, numeracy, literacy and reading skills, she said.
"I find that when they can be here all day, they build a stronger sense of community than when they were here on a half-day program," she said. "I just think now it’s so much better for the kids."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 15, 2014