The East Penn School Board will vote soon on whether to offer full day kindergarten to all families in the district. I’m strongly in favor of doing so. I’ve already outlined four key benefits of full day kindergarten. Let me say a few words here about why this is a real need in our community.
Full day kindergarten is long overdue in East Penn. Thirteen states already require universal full day kindergarten. While Pennsylvania is not such a state, most kindergarteners-- 77%-- are in full day programs anyway. Even in Lehigh County, the majority of districts (5 of 8) offer full day kindergarten to all of their students. Yet we still don’t. Put bluntly, our youngest students are being left behind.
Addressing Community Needs
We know the need is there. Currently 27% of students in East Penn are not reading proficiently by the end of third grade. Full day kindergarten provides the time and space for gaining the basic foundation needed for later reading skills. We also have increasing poverty and inequality in our community, reflecting larger trends in the country as a whole. Almost 26% of students in the district are now eligible for free or reduced lunch at school, more than double the number just ten years ago. Students from families that are struggling financially often come to kindergarten with fewer life skills, little experience with books, and underdeveloped vocabularies. These needs cannot be met with our current half day programs, which were designed in a different age to serve a community that looks much different than our community today.
One of the concerns I’ve heard raised about full day kindergarten is that five- and six-year-olds may not be ready to spend six hours at school. Some parents feel strongly that time is better spent at home. I understand both concerns. And I agree that not every child is ready to transition to kindergarten the moment they turn five. Kindergarten is a choice in Pennsylvania - it is not mandatory. Nobody will force parents to send their kids to full day kindergarten if it isn’t right for them. But right now, the majority of parents in our district who would like their kids to enjoy the benefits of a full day program are not able to do so. Establishing full day kindergarten in the district thus opens up more educational choices without taking away any rights of parents to decide what is best for their kids.
My support of full day kindergarten is not one I come to lightly; my opinion is based on talking to many people in the district about the issue, researching it on my own, reading what published studies say about the advantages and costs of such programs, and participating in three formal school board presentations and discussions on the issue over the last eighteen months. On the basis of this work, I’ve come to the conclusion that full day kindergarten is right for our district. What do you think?
This is one of several posts on the full day kindergarten proposal. You can learn more at:
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