Laguna Beach public elementary schools will offer full-day kindergarten for the first time beginning next fall. The change will add about three more hours on average to a typical kindergarten student’s school day.
Some kindergarten teachers expressed their enthusiasm for the extension to better prepare young students for the physical and academic demands of first grade. In a statement, Top of the World Elementary kindergarten teachers Megan Bartlett, Brooke Bismack and Jenny Carlson said, “full day kindergarten will give us more time for exploration, hands on activities, and the opportunity to dig deeper into core concepts. That is the ultimate goal – to teach lessons with fidelity and to give students more time, not more work.”
TOW Principal Michael Conlon, who was hired in 2014, said, “from day one when I walked onto the campus this has been discussed by staff and parents. This is a need. What do we need to achieve it?”
Parent Sheri Morgan said she enrolled her children in private kindergarten due to her preference for more academic rigor and playtime.
Laguna Presbyterian Preschool Director Anne Herzog said most of her families welcome a day-long kindergarten. “My one concern is that a quality full day is not just about academics. Children need more time outside running and playing. Not just 20 minutes. They need a solid hour to dive in and use their imaginations.”
A report to the school board Tuesday, Feb. 14, on indicators of student readiness showed why administrators and principals backed the change.
El Morro Principal Chris Duddy pointed to results from the Early Development Index (EDI), a measure of childhood development during the kindergarten year. LBUSD kindergarteners are strong in physical health and well-being, but are weak in fine and gross motor skills and communication and general knowledge, said Duddy, in displaying visually results of the EDI survey.
Less than half of kindergartners enrolled in Laguna Beach public elementary schools are fully prepared for the classroom experience, according to a 2016 survey of 156 kindergarten students at El Morro and Top of the World Elementary administered by their teachers. Their peers countywide also show a lack of readiness in the same areas, though at a lower percentage.
“The EDI survey that we complete on each student is to evaluate how these students are prepared when they enter kindergarten. As teachers, our job is to prepare them for first grade. Our kindergarteners are extremely prepared in June,” Bartlett said in a response to an earlier story about EDI results.
At the meeting, Duddy said the survey results prompted reflection and an opportunity to develop a possible solution. “This is where we were all scratching our heads,” he said. “Why are our children so strong in areas and not in others?
He said the town’s car-filled streets inhibit outdoor play and children as well as parents are spending more time with technology. Electronic devices reduce social interactions between parents and their children and between students and their motor skills suffer due to “swiping and staring” at tablets and phones. “It’s an assumption, but it can be taken as a correlation,” said Duddy.
Assistant Superintendent for Instructional Services Alysia Odipo said, “we believe lengthening the instructional day for kindergarten students will provide additional benefit to further develop students’ academic, social-emotional and motor skills.” She said two thirds of public elementary schools in the state already offer full-time kindergarten, including Newport-Mesa Unified and Ocean View in San Diego.
Duddy and Odipo both said school site committees, made up of parents, as well as PTA and staff have informally discussed a transition to full day kindergarten.
The expected start and end times for kindergarten will be slightly staggered to accommodate the influx of traffic, but will allow parents with kindergarten students and older siblings to pick up students in one trip, district spokeswoman Leisa Winston said. Kindergarten students will ride the same buses as students in grades one through five.
The current kindergarten schedule at El Morro and Top of the World Elementary has two start times: sessions from 7:55 to 11:25 a.m. and a second session, 9:55 a.m. to 2:17 p.m.
Students in grades one through five 5 at both schools attend classes from 7:55 a.m. to 2:17 p.m. on all days except Wednesday, when school is dismissed at 1:17 p.m.
No additional staff is anticipated for the extended kindergarten session, Winston said. Teachers already teach both morning and afternoon classes so there is no change to their workday or salary, she said.
There may some savings in eliminating some mid-day transportation routes and minor costs to increasing supervision.
The school board did not formally vote to extend kindergarten school hours because staff did not anticipate fiscal or personnel impact, Winston said.
El Morro and Top of the World will open the online registration process for kindergarten on April 10. Parents interested in enrolling their child at either school must complete the new student online enrollment process on lbusd.org/enrollment. Registration will be held at El Morro on April 25 and Top of the World on May 10, both from 9 a.m. until noon.
Orientation days for transitional kindergarten and kindergarten students will take place at El Morro on April 13 at 9:30 a.m. and May 18 at 6 p.m. and at Top of the World on May 24 at 8:30 a.m.
The new school year begins Sep. 5.