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11-22-13: Full-day kindergarten gets under way in three schools
11-22-13: Full-day kindergarten gets under way in three schools
Posted on 11/22/2013

Ashley Conner started kindergarten this fall knowing her letters and numbers, confident in writing her name, and able to read some frequently used words at that grade level.


One month after being in school, the 5-year-old began to read books.


“Her reading has really taken off!” said her mother, Anna. “She talks about books all the time now and is more confident in reading.”


Anna attributes her daughter’s growth in reading to her participation in a new full-day kindergarten program at Firgrove Elementary School.


The free, full-day program is also offered this fall at Spinning and Stewart elementary schools, with nearly 200 students enrolled among the three schools combined.


ImageThe state Legislature agreed to provide full-day kindergarten funding for schools statewide that have high percentages of students who qualify for free or reduced price meals.


While only offered at three schools this year, the Puyallup School District is exploring the expansion of full-day kindergarten districtwide in the future, said Lisa Nolan, director of instructional leadership.


The 20 seats in each full-day kindergarten class at Firgrove, Spinning, and Stewart elementary schools filled this year, including five seats at each school open to Puyallup School District students who live outside of the three attendance areas.


“The full-day program can be a game changer for so many of our students,” Nolan said. “It gives twice as much time for students to engage in learning, develop social skills, and create even stronger partnerships with our families.”


Kim Fishback, a veteran elementary teacher of 19 years, sees the benefits firsthand.


“The extra time gives me a chance to read more stories, for example, and build the language that they need at this age,” she said.


Fishback said she is also able to meet the needs of different learners, especially during small group instruction that is repeated twice during the day — once during the morning and again in the afternoon.


“Best of all, I don’t have to hurry my students,” she said.


A typical day in full-day kindergarten


On a recent morning at Firgrove Elementary, Fishback welcomed her kindergartners at the classroom door and listened as they eagerly told her everything important that had happened in their lives since the day before.


After sharing their news, students hung up their jackets and backpacks, went to their desks, and practiced writing the letter “A” and coloring an apple  underneath it on a worksheet included in the kindergarten reading curriculum.Image


Like students in half-day programs, a typical kindergarten day begins with taking attendance, determining what students are ordering for school lunch, doing the flag salute, and reviewing the calendar, which is referred to in the district math curriculum as “Number Corner.”


During this time, students learn about number awareness, patterns, and other math skills.


In a full-day kindergarten program, extra time is available, Nolan said, for teachers to talk with and question students about what they see in the Number Corner.


“Right out of the gate they are able to have more time to think and ask questions,” she said.


The morning time is also set aside for teachers to share with students what they will learn that day; have whole class and small-group instruction; and move students to learning center activities such as reading, writing, art, science, and music.

A short snack break is held in either the morning or afternoon, with a longer lunch break in the middle of the day.


The learning never stops, Nolan said. During snack time, for example, students practice math skills by helping to count plates or cups and learn about nutrition.


Because this is the first time many of the students have gone through a lunch line, it sometimes takes several days to learn the routine.


ImageOn the first day of school at Spinning Elementary, for example, kindergartner Christopher Chaffee struggled to keep a carrot in his tongs as he carefully tried to maneuver the vegetable from the food cart to his lunch tray. 


“Students are learning so much this first year,” Nolan said. “It’s an exciting time.” After lunch recess, the afternoon schedule includes time for reading books as a class or individually; doing art, music, or physical education; writing in journals; and reflecting on what was learned that day.


Before sending students to their desks to write in their journals, Fishback asked several students to stand in front of the class and tell about the story they would write about.


Bailey Flowers said she would write about when she went to Disneyland and met princesses at Ariel’s Restaurant, while Izabella Gilman described how she would write about giving nuts to the squirrels next to her house.


Spinning Elementary teacher Kristy Power said she and the other full-day kindergarten teachers are excited to track students’ writing progress.


“We can’t wait to see the growth our students will make this year,” she said. “The extra school hours allow us more time for letter and number routines, as well as added opportunities for writing.”


Family partnerships


Part of the success of the full-day kindergarten program, Nolan said, is the partnership teachers have with families.


Stewart and Spinning elementary schools, for example, learned about their program early enough to schedule “Family Connection” meetings with their incoming kindergartners and parents before school started in September. Firgrove scheduled these meetings after school began.


The brief family sessions, which are a condition of the state funding for full-day kindergarten, are an opportunity for teachers to get acquainted with students and parents, as well as to answer any questions about kindergarten or school in general.


The 10 full-day kindergarten teachers in Puyallup also attended trainings as a condition of the state funding. They learned how to administer a state evaluation tool to assess student progress in areas such as math, reading, and language.


Preparing for first grade


Melissa Ryan, a first-grade teacher at Firgrove Elementary, enrolled her twin boys in the school’s full-day kindergarten program. She feels her sons, who were born nine weeks premature, will benefit from the extra learning time in their first year.


Ryan said the program not only helps students to be successful in kindergarten, but also prepares them for the academic rigor of first grade.


“This program is extremely important to bring them up to speed for first grade,” she said.


With one month into school, she said her sons seem to be adjusting well to the full day of kindergarten.


“When they get up in the morning, they say, ‘Do we get to go to school today?’”