Now available: Free, full-day kindergarten
By John Laidler GLOBE CORRESPONDENT -GLOBE STAFF PHOTO/ TOM LANDERS
Kindergarten students in Norwood will have an extra three hours a day to learn and play this year. The town is introducing a free, full-day program for all its kindergartners, expanding their school day from 2 1/2 to 5 1/2 hours.
With the change, which takes effect when kindergartners begin their school year Thursday, Norwood is also centralizing its kindergarten program.
The program will be housed at the former Willett School instead of at all five of the town’s elementary schools. The building, the site of the town’s preschool program, is being renamed the Willett Early Childhood Center.
Pat DiSalvo, whose son, Ryan, 5, is entering kindergarten, said she welcomes the full-day program. DiSalvo said her son has attended a 9 a.m.-to-l p.m. preschool. Continuing a half-day kindergarten “would have been a setback,” she said.
“I think most of the kids today, because they are in some kind of preschool program … are ready” for full-day kindergarten, she said.
DiSalvo, who also has a daughter in fifth grade, said today’s students face increasing academic challenges. “When I see my daughter, who took the MCAS in fourth grade, and what these kids need to know, it’s a lot,” she said.
Norwood joins a growing number of communities statewide that have moved to full-day kindergarten. According to the state Department of Education, 177 school districts and charter schools are offering all-day programs this fall.
Heidi Perlman, spokeswoman for the department, said her agency encourages communities to consider offering full-day. “We see it as a huge advantage for kids,” she said. “It gets them accustomed to being in school all day. It gives them a great opportunity for learning.”
Norwood’s program is being provided to all of the town’s kindergarten students. About 230 are enrolled this year. The majority of all-day programs are optional, Perlman said. Under optional programs, parents of full-day students pay a tuition fee. In Norwood, there is no charge.
“We really believe this is an equity issue,” said School Superintendent Edward P. Quigley . “This is public education, and public education should be available to everyone, regardless of their ability to pay.”
A study committee in 2002 explored the idea of full-day kindergarten in Norwood, with the help of a state grant. The panel recommended the town introduce a pilot program, and if it went well, expand it townwide. The pilot program was held last school year at Willett, and 40 students participated.
“It went extremely well,” said Ginny Ceruti, principal of the Willett Early Childhood Center and a former kindergarten teacher who taught in the pilot program.
“All those children that left [the program] this past spring were reading at some level. They were confident. They were eager to come to school each day. They interacted nicely with each other.”
The town decided in the spring to go forward with the full program for this fall. Officials expect a state grant — the amount is not yet known — to help cover first-year costs. The town will also be
able to use some federal funds for the program, according to Carole Poirier, assistant to the superintendent.
Poirier said the program is staffed using existing full-time kindergarten teachers who formerly taught separate morning and afternoon classes, and by expanding some part-time teachers to full-time.
Ceruti said staff members are excited about the program. Adding to their enthusiasm are the new paint, ceilings, windows, lights, and floors at Willett. “It’s a fabulously clean, bright building,” she said.
Ceruti, who has taught 34 years in Norwood, all but one at the kindergarten level, said she was initially uncertain about all-day kindergarten. She said she became convinced the concept made sense after teaching in the pilot program and seeing “students’ skills getting so much better so much more rapidly.” Students also had “a chance to think about the concepts that were presented as part of the curriculum and to practice them over the course of the day,” she said.
Beth Ailinger’s son, Michael, 6, was in Ceruti’s class. A part-time teacher in Natick and former full-time teacher in Norwood, Ailinger said Michael’s experience reinforced her belief in the value of full-day kindergarten.
“The half-day just wasn’t providing enough time,” said Ailinger, who has two other children, Brian, 8, and Emily, 11. “We were dropping them off at 8:40, and they were finished at 11:15. So a full day was fabulous. [Michael] got so much more academic stuff and just enough time to really be exposed to things and have things sink in. He loved it.”
Ceruti said parents have expressed concerns about a full-day schedule. Some believe their children are not ready for the program. Others worry about putting their child on a bus, about lunch procedures, and about their child not being able to attend their neighborhood school with siblings.
“I think time is going to help everybody,” Ceruti said.