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Letter: Ex-teacher opposes full-day kindergarten

Published 9:59 am, Wednesday, April 3, 2013
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I was a kindergarten teacher in Westport for five years before staying home to raise my three children. We moved to Westport two years ago in large part because of Westport's philosophy on education. I was teaching when the current schedule of two extended days/three full days was implemented, and I have to say Westport got it right five years ago. A lot of thought went into developing a schedule that was developmentally appropriate for kindergartners. The main focus was adding more "choice" time. Because of all the new demands on kindergartners back then, teachers were having a hard time fitting it all in. Now, five years later, we are at a similar place -- too much work, not enough time. But this time the district isn't looking to add more play but rather more work. What will kindergarten look like five years from now? No play at all? If I've learned anything as a teacher and mother, it's that curriculum may change, but the developmental needs of children 4 and 5 do not.

Looking at the district's numbers, it is shocking to see the number of additional minutes these young minds will spend performing compared to the minutes they get to play, process and work on social skills. The increase is unimaginably disproportionate. As I listen to proponents sell this idea, I wonder what happened to this community in the last few years. These are small children just beginning their school careers. Shouldn't we focus on instilling a love of reading, writing and math rather than stuffing it down their throats every minute of the school day? What about friendship-building time inside and out of school? Extended days allow for play dates and down time to process learning and just be a kid. Five long days will put a kibosh on play dates, and good luck teaching a 5 year old anything after 1:30 p.m. on Thursday and Friday. My students on Thursdays were exhausted and excited to see Friday was a one-snack day vs. two-snack day (k code for extended vs. long day). With five full days, kids will be tired by Wednesday. Teaching students who are mentally exhausted is a waste of time.

I'm turned off by the district's use of fear rather than facts to gain support of their proposal. Using terms like "game changer" and threatening to have to "lose specials" and choice time if we don't go to five full days, to scare the public into thinking it's the only choice. It's not.

The wisest option is to leave the schedule as is and make informed decisions based on results rather than what ifs, as our kids are assessed against the benchmarks of the Connecticut Core Standards. We have wonderful programs like Fundations for literacy and Singapore math. I've reviewed the CCS twice. With a little tweaking, our current schedule will effectively prepare our students to meet these standards and leave four hours for them to do the work of childhood: just play.

Brooke Petrosino

Westport