By Isabelle Todd

     “I have never talked to a Kindergarten teacher who has not loved the change,” says Mast Way Kindergarten teacher Michelle Parsons.

     After eight years of research ORCSD has decided to change its half day kindergarten program to a full day. Much analysis, scheduling, planning and discussion went into this decision. Starting in the fall of 2016 Moharimet and Mast Way Elementary kindergarteners will attend a full day of schooling, but f a parent decides they would like to continue to have their child only attend a half day that option is still available.

     “Full day Kindergarten is a growing trend.  87+ NH districts have full day , 76% nationally,” says Parsons. In addition to the popularity of this idea there are other reasons why ORCSD has made this switch.

     “There has been lots of pressure on kindergarten over the last dozen years as greater expectations have happened at the federal government and greater expectations have happened at the state government. It has created a lot of pressure on our kindergarten staff to accomplish a lot in very little time,”  says ORCSD Superintendent James Morse.

     Morse continues by saying “The actual session is about two and half hours where high school and middle schoolers are in school for six and half hours. By bringing a full day program in you relieve some of the pressure on the teachers to have to cram in so much into such a short period of time. But it also offers them the opportunity to have the kind of kindergarten program they want, which isn’t all academic, academic, academic it’s the mixing of academic expectations and social expectations and free play and then structured play. Those things make kindergarten a successful experience and switching to a full day helps us achieve that.”

     The Mast Way principal, Carrie Vaich, continues by saying, “The decision to make the shift comes from many different points, but most importantly, the need to have adequate time to instruct our young learners both academically and socially.  I am very pleased with the full day plans because our half day model does not provide enough time for teachers to work with students in a comfortable, relaxed, child-centered manner.”

     Parsons, who has been teaching kindergarten for the last 33 years, says “It would be nice to provide less transitions for these children. The Common Core State standards and 21st century learning place additional expectations on Kindergarten learners.  Scheduling challenges  are too constrained in a half day program.  It would be nice to slow our pace down, have more time to address social/emotional issues, and play!”

     Parsons was a part of a committee that was created eight years ago with the intention to begin researching this topic. They gathered numerous resources and research on the full day programming. Last year began the process of reviewing these pieces of information along with gathering more recent research to review the option.  In addition, there were many districts in the state of New Hampshire conducting the same research, many of which were successful  in implementing full day kindergarten over the last year.

     “It was wonderful to have colleagues across the state sharing their data and resources as we from Oyster River did as well.  There really aren’t many drawbacks to offering a full day of instruction for our students,” says Vaich.

     It seems that most parents are for the decision as well. Not only will their child receive an hour a day of each reading, writing, mathematics and science, but the scheduling difficulties will also be cut down. As it is now, there is an AM and PM kindergarten class and parents often have a difficult time scheduling around these time constraints, but there are concerns that this program is asking too much of these young kids.

     Amanda Przybylski is the parent to a child who will be attending the full day program next year. Pryzbylski has been a stay at home mom but recently began working again and feels that the switch will benefit her son quite a bit.

     “Some of the children are home the other half of the day with a parent or babysitter and I know that many are busy and pacifying the children with electronics or TV.  Full day Kindergarten will stop this from happening.  I have been a stay at home mom for many years, but have recently started working.  I empathize greatly with working parents as I begin work and now realize the difficulties that come with finding top notch reasonable priced care for your children for that portion of the day,” says Przybylski.

     Przybylski continues by saying, “With my son going back to school it allows me to go back to work, but most importantly it allows him fair access to the demanding curriculum that our children are being expected to learn for the preparation of first grade.  Additionally, it’s important to acknowledge that the stress of finding care for our children is taken off of the family which benefits the family both financially and emotionally.”

     Trista Fitch is the parent to a current kindergartener and says she is happy that her child won’t be affected by the schedule change. “Our Kindergartens are asked to do much more than most might be developmentally ready for. I think more parents will delay the start time of their children due to the full day now, thinking their child just may not be ready. My child turned 5 in August and then started school a few weeks after. If this was a full day program I would have thought about waiting a year until she turned 6, feeling she may not be ready for a full day of school and the new K academics.”

     In past year it appears that the biggest roadblock preventing this switch was classroom availability, “Lack of space is what kept us back before.  Now that space is available at both schools, we feel it is time to move forward with this initiative,” says Parsons.

     In the fall, Mast Way and Moharimet will have some settling in to do, but Mast Way kindergarten teacher Deb Kolbjornsen says, “I feel like it will be a chance to take a deep breath and to just breath, and really have the time to achieve what we have wanted to achieve but haven’t had the time to get to.”

     “We are happy that the Oyster River School Board Members have supported this initiative and thank them for their support.  We’re excited to welcome our new kindergarteners in the fall!” says Vaich.