The impending move to cut kindergarten to half-day sessions in the Huntington school district has set off a scramble by parents and agencies looking for ways to provide alternatives.
School board meetings have been filled with discussions about cutting or protecting one program or another. But none has attracted the attention and emotion as the halving of the kindergarten program.
Those insisting that the board retain full-day kindergarten, or board members advocating the same, have regularly been met by applause. But as the board worked its way to the adoption of a budget of $109, 037,301 for next year, kindergarten faded as a priority for members trying to make all the numbers work. Cutting kindergarten in half saves an estimated $680,000.
Despite an argument that children who don't go to kindergarten catch up academically by third grade with those who do, many parents remain unsatisfied.
Kindergarten is "fundamental for a kid's growth. It's an introduction to school--some have never been to school; for many it's their first school experience, first chance to socialize, to problem solve," said Jillian Franciscovich, who teaches kindergarten in another district.
"With increased class size, and decreasing support services, how are these kids supposed to catch up?" she said. "They've raised the bar on state standards. Kindergarten isn't play time, it's about how to read, write, do math; some are learning a different language. How is this to be accomplished in a half day? They're asking teachers to teach more in less time, to pull off a miracle."
Parents, meantime, are complaining that even as they were registering their children for next fall's classes, no one in the district was telling them that the program would be halved. Others were angry that they don't know yet which half of the day their children would attend school, a problem for any parent trying to line up alternative care for their children.
And parents aren't the only ones dashing about trying to make arrangements. Both and the YMCA are trying to figure out ways to accommodate children and their working parents, well aware of the anxiety parents are feeling to find solutions. The alternatives aren't easy or big enough to help everyone.
"Clearly we're concerned as an agency that they've had a tough decision and while we understand, this will have an impact on working parents and children," Peggy Boyd, vice president for advocacy and initiative at Family Service League, said. FSL runs a universal pre-kindergarten program at St. Hugh's Church in Huntington Station.
And the , which runs a full-day program for 4-year-olds, is working on setting up a half-day program to accommodate those before or after their kindergarten sessions. But the numbers the Y could take will be relatively small, Eileen Knauer, executive director of the Huntington YMCA said.
"We're seeing parents scrambling right now. They're deeply concerned on what the impact is on their children and on child care," she said. "We're trying to implement a kindergarten enrichment program so parents have an alternative to child care."
The Bay Shore Y previously ran such a program in Massapequa, she said, until that school system went to full-day kindergarten.
"So we have the curriculum, the blueprint you'd need," she said. "It's just the space that's the issue. We believe we'll have room for two classes, with a maximum benefit of about 30 kids." She said the Y is looking for offsite space and partnerships, as well.
The cost, though, is another factor for parents to consider. "We would have to run the program with tuition, though scholarships would be available," she said. But "It would now fall on parents. There's a financial impact on the parents."
Norman Maxim, a father of four children in the district, also sees the cuts hurting some children more than others. "I'm not so much worried about my children, because they're going to go to college--we'll make sure they are ready," he said. But some children, he said, will need the extra classroom time. "The system has done a great job teaching the kids to read by kindergarten," he said. And "If they can keep all the children on track, fine. I'm concerned thought at half day, with a larger class size, it's going to be a challenge to get them to the same point" where kids are now."I don't think all hope is lost but the foundation is very important."
"I don't think people are willing to pay more (in taxes) but they need to consider the advantage of investing in the schools and the big payoff to the town as a whole. It's a great time to stand out as enhancing and probably catapulting housing values and the community as a whole as result of improvements to the school. Everybody's in the same financial straits but I hate to follow the model that everything has to be cut, cut, cut."
Patch has been speaking to parents around Huntington. Here is a sampling.
"I think it's terrible. The expectations for kindergartners today are high; my kindergardener had to learn how to write full paragraphs. With those expectations, there has to be a full day of class for them. Not only that, but if they're not in school a full day, now I have to hire a babysitter and change my schedule for work. It effects the children, and the parents. They're in a good routine now going a full day, we shouldn't tamper with that."
"Our kids need to be in school for a full day. It's necessary for their learning. Kindergarten prepares them socially for first grade and so on. If we cut that short, they're not going to be as prepared as they should be. Socially and educationally, I think its vital for our children to get all the education that is needed for their full development."
"We have children in pre-school now, but they'll be in kindergarten before you know it. We're opposed to these proposals to cut the school days in half, it doesn't serve the kids best interest. They're at the age where they need to begin their experience of social interaction and the process of learning. Why should we cut that time they need to develop those skills in half?"
-John and Dawn W.
"Kindergarten education is so important, it's the foundation for any child's learning experience. I'd had to have to not only rearrange my lifestyle to adjust to my child being home all the hours he should be in school, but see that time of education taken away from them. I hope that the board of education really thinks this over and hears our response."