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Letter: Support full-day kindergarten

Published 9:34 am, Friday, March 29, 2013
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On April 8 the Board of Education will be voting on whether or not it should extend Westport kindergarten an additional four hours per week. As a mother of two special-needs children, I am strongly in favor of the proposal.

Children with special-education or medical needs need the additional hours because they are frequently pulled out of their regular school schedule in order to receive treatments or therapies.

My son has a medical condition requiring him to be pulled out of class several times a day everyday. His teachers and the school nurse try to accommodate him in between lessons or during lessons that are "less important." It was particularly challenging last year to do so on Mondays and Fridays. He often had many of his more important lessons interrupted on those rushed days.

My daughter will enter kindergarten this fall. She is currently receiving special education for speech through the Westport School District. Her speech therapist indicated that she will likely need additional interventions in kindergarten and will need to attend three times a week. Again, it is difficult to incorporate those therapies with two shorter days in her schedule. And it is best for her speech therapies to be spaced out. Despite the fact that both the Westport School District and an outside therapist indicated that my daughter needed therapy at a minimum of three days a week, my insurance company would not support that. So, taking my daughter to therapy after school is not an option.

Children with special needs require early and more frequent interventions in order to be able to succeed throughout their academic careers. Longer school days allow for additional instruction and interventions these kids need to succeed in school while also meeting more rigorous common core standards required next year.

KIPP, the formidable education group behind its successful charter school programs, has found time to be a great equalizer in education where children struggle academically. In successful KIPP programs, children attend school twice a month on Saturdays, from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. KIPP has been praised overwhelmingly for turning around low performing children through the use of longer school days. KIPP's schedule is similarly modeled after the Japanese system, which scores consistently well on PISA. We are only asking for four extra hours.

A longer day means a more balanced day of instructional time with play or free time for children. Ridgefield, in our own DRG, has seen resounding success. "District data indicated that by January, approximately 80% of our full-day K students achieved what their half-day peers had achieved by June in previous years," two administrators wrote. Imagine what that success would mean for special needs children?

I strongly request that the Board of Education consider special needs children and adopt the four additional hours of educational instruction while offering an opt-out for those parents that wish to pick up their children early on Mondays and Fridays.

I urge parents to sign this petition: http://www.change.org/petitions/the-westport-ct-board-of-education-vote-in-favor-of-5-day-full-day-kindergarten

Nancy Mahmoud

Westport