Dear South Huntington School Board,
My name is Alison Chiquitucto, I am a resident and a parent of the South Huntington School District. I am writing to you to express my extreme opposition to half day kindergarten. As my husband often works at night, and do not have anyone to watch my children in the evenings, it is difficult for me to attend board meetings. So I am expressing my thoughts and cautions to you in a letter. I am begging you to consider how important full day kindergarten is to the whole district. I am begging you to see that kindergarten in New York State should be a mandated program (especially since kindergarten teachers are mandated to follow all the mandates and the Common Core Learning Standards). I am begging you to not give into Governor Cuomo’s plan to destroy our schools. Taking away full day kindergarten will have a negative and lasting impact on our district for many years to come. The effects of this decision will be felt until these children graduate South Huntington Schools. We are both aware that the price we are saving to cut kindergarten now will be nowhere near the astronomical price it will cost to bring the program back to full day. Half day kindergarten is just not an option. This is a long letter and I would appreciate your patience and your time. You will not be disappointed about what you are about to learn about kindergarten.
I am a kindergarten teacher in West Babylon, I have been teaching kindergarten for 8 years. Over the past 8 years the standards expected from kindergarteners has changed drastically. When I started 8 years ago, my students had playtime and an art project every day. Those days are gone… 8 years ago I did not teach readers workshop, guided reading or writer’s workshop. Now, my students are learning how to write and read by the end of the year. I am proud to say that my students are up for the task. They are leaving my class at the end of the school year knowing all of their letters, letter sounds, initial consonant sounds, ending sounds, short vowel sounds, long vowel sounds, (even most digraphs & blends), they can write a sentence and a story, and they can read. They know sentences start with a capital letter and end with a period. They know all the letters in the sentence (except for the beginning letter and proper nouns) are lowercase. They know how to leave spaces between words and little spaces between letters in a word. They can use inventive spelling to write about what they love. My students take risks every day with their writing. They can write stories and make list books. My students can draw a picture that will tell you a story- because they have included lots of details (and colors). My students are learning how to make their writing “extraordinary” by adding “pizzazz” to their pictures. They are being exposed to vocabulary like: content, main idea, details, setting, characters, author, illustrator, organization, structure, punctuation, etc. My students know that when they read, the pictures help them to read the words in the sentence. They know how to find repeating patterns in the sentences throughout the story and use that pattern to read the book independently. My students can read sight words and find sight words in a book. My students know how to find words around the classroom to help them write their own stories. Your South Huntington teachers are doing this, too. Kindergarten is changing every year, every year there are more demands and more mandates- every year there is LESS TIME.
My experience and personal research into how kindergarteners learn has taught me that children learn how to write before they learn how to read. Children are writers from the day they tell their first story. Children learn how to tell stories, then draw stories with details, and finally they learn how to add letters, words and sentences to their stories. When children understand how to write words and tell stories they become stronger readers. It is easier for a child to sound a word out using the sounds they know, then it is to read a word with rules they do not know. When children are able to explore writing and how to create words, they are making real world connections to words that will never be forgotten. Our kindergartners need time to explore writing. Children are spending more time playing video games and less time telling stories at home. For some students, most of their oral language skills are developed in the classroom.
Three years ago, I began writer’s workshop with my students around February or March. Most of my students would write a string of capital letters (no spaces) that did not make sense. The past few years, I began writer’s workshop the first day of school. Today, every student in my class is able to write at least a simple sentence using appropriate punctuation, spacing, capital and lowercase letters, sight words, and inventive spelling and read the sentence they wrote. The demands placed on our students are persistently getting more difficult. I understand that there are districts on Long Island that do have half day kindergarten programs, or even extended day kindergarten. My caution for you would be that those programs have evolved in that manner. Those programs existed as half day when kindergartners were still taking naps and having playtime. Those programs also now have to figure out how to adapt to the new CCLS. You are doing the entire community an extreme disservice by going backwards to half day kindergarten. It is not possible to take a half a day away from teaching and still be able to meet all the demands the state requires. This year your teachers have been “unpacking” and implementing the “new” New York State Common Core Learning Standards. If you continue with a plan that includes half day kindergarten, your kindergarten teachers are going to be responsible to teach their students how to read, write, learn letters, letter sounds, social studies, science and math in less than two hours a day. Your current math program, Envisions, is a 60 minute lesson. Your teachers still need to teach reading: with small group guided reading instruction, with students placed in their own appropriately leveled guided reading group (at least 30 minutes a day- I do this for 40 minutes a day); and complete a read aloud lesson (making sure to read 70% nonfiction), ask carefully crafted questions about the story to make sure students are able to find the answers in the text and infer what the author is trying to say and make real world connections (another 20-30 minutes). Your teachers need to teach children to read letters, learn letter sounds, and teach phonemic awareness (30-40 minutes). They need to teach writing (at least 20 -30 minutes), social studies and science each day (another 20-30 minutes- if doing a craft or project you may need 45 minutes). Since gym is mandated, there will be at least 2 days a week the students will lose another 30+ minutes of instruction (and they will need to travel time to and from the classroom). It takes kindergarteners at least 15-20 minutes to all arrive and unpack in the morning, and if you are lucky 20 minutes to pack up at the end of the school day (in the beginning of the school year- this process takes much longer). And all of these things are assuming all kindergarten students are cooperating (there will be no time for crying, melt downs and forget about having any behavior problems). Add on transition time, four and five year olds need time to clean up one activity and move on to another activity. Please don’t forget, the time your teachers will need to assess the students to collect data that will need to drive their instruction. So there will be no time for calendar, morning message (I can’t even begin to tell you how many skills are developed through this activity), playing, singing, character education, socializing, fine motor skills, art, painting, cutting, handwriting, learning how to work as a group, tell stories, sharing their favorite things, listening to more than one story a day, technology, fitness breaks, using their imaginations, making new friends at recess, exploring their kindergarten classroom through activities like workstations, etc.
My questions and concerns to the South Huntington School Board: what are you going to do with the kindergartners that are not ready for first grade, academically or socially? Are you going to retain them all? Or will you be promoting them to first grade for that teacher to “deal” with? If you are promoting all the students that are not able to complete the kindergarten curriculum successfully, what services will you be able to provide for them in first grade and beyond (because the gap will only widen)? Is the district ready to have an increase in special education services for the students who are not able to close the gap? Or will you ignore those teacher requests and continue to push under performing students ahead? How will you help the students when they reach third grade and beyond and are not ready for state testing? How are your teachers going to be “highly effective”, under the new APPR process, if they are given students that are not ready for their grade level? How will you keep enrollment in our schools stable, when all the renters move away to a district that has full day kindergarten?
Thank you very much for listening to my concerns. I would appreciate any answers you have to my questions. I am aware you may not be ready to answer these questions. I would greatly appreciate your thoughtful consideration to the problems half day kindergarten will create. I appreciate the work and the countless hours the South Huntington School Board has dedicated to the community and our budget. I would also like to thank all the amazing teachers of Countrywood Primary School for their dedication, patience and perseverance.