By Betsy Breitenbach
It was not at all business as usual for Vicksburg’s youngest students last September. A big change was taking place. In the past, youngsters starting school in the district had always been enrolled in a either a half day kindergarten or begindergarten (also known as “young fives”) program.
Due to recent state-wide budget cuts affecting half day programs, combined with a strong belief in the power of early childhood education, Vicksburg joined the majority of Michigan school districts in implementing full day kindergarten/ begindergarten programs.
Extending the school day allowed for both more academics as well as more time for social growth. Reading, writing, and math were taught on a daily basis. As in past years, handwriting, science, and social studies were included in the instruction as well as gym, art and music classes.
The full day difference being more time allocated for each of these subjects. The kindergarten teachers in the district were in 100% agreement that the full day allowed for a deeper, more individualized approach to teaching the required curriculum.
Sunset Lake Elementary teacher Leslie Trayers noted that this occurred also at the begindergarten level. Trayers stated that she “was amazed at how quickly the begindergarteners adapted to the full day routine. “ She added, “ I was so impressed with how much we were able to accomplish in a day. I truly believe that the major growth I saw both academically and socially in each and every one of my kiddos was due in large part to being with them all day every day.”
The teachers involved in making this switch from a half day to a full day program met several times throughout the year to assess this change. The discussions were overwhelmingly positive. Tobey Elementary kindergarten teacher Wendy Gebben stated her content in realizing the flexibility and time she now had to fit in the required kindergarten curriculum.
“I enjoyed establishing a special relationship with each student personally. The full day enabled me to know my students that much more both personally and academically I felt that I was able to meet each student’s needs both emotionally and academically”, reflected Gebben.
In addition to academics, the youngsters joined their older counterparts in eating lunch in the cafeteria and playing outside each day at recess. The kindergarten/begindergarten children sang songs, played, and danced regularly, as well as had a rest period each afternoon. The children visited the school’s computer lab weekly to brush up on their computer skills.
When the year was complete, the kindergartners left prepared more than ever to meet the challenges of the first grade. Sunset School Instructional Consultant Jamie Masco served as transition coordinator for the district’s move to full day kindergarten. Looking back on this year of change Masco stated, “The transition to full day kindergarten went smoothly. We received positive comments throughout the school year from parents expressing their satisfaction with their child’s academic and social growth. Math and reading scores at the kindergarten level have never been higher!”