Lord Dufferin school is in a high-needs area. There are many low-income families living in the nearby Regent Park social housing community and a significant number of ESL students. Being in class all day, every day gave the children more time to adjust to school. “Some kids have never been in day care or preschool, they come straight from the home. They have little social experience,” Lum says. “In the beginning some had difficulties.” But teachers adjusted the program to meet children’s needs and “they quickly adjusted” to school routines and expectations.
Students who don’t come from enriched home environments make huge gains in full-day, everyday programs, says Suzanne Mercier, a member of the Niagara Teacher Local. A full-day, everyday program allows teachers “to close that gap” between students from less advantaged situations and those who are more privileged. “By the end of the year, they are struggling a lot less,” Mercier says. Students who might not be able to identify the letters in their name at the start of the year leave her kindergarten reading at or above their appropriate level.
Class size and class composition will be important factors in the success of full-day programs, kindergarten teachers say. Provincial government funding will be based an average class size of 26, with one full-time teacher and a full- time early childhood educator (ECE).
Space may be an issue in some schools. Teachers will have to be creative about how they use space to accommodate that number of children. And they will have to adjust to larger class sizes — kindergarten and primary grades are now capped at 20 students. “I did have as many as 25 when I was teaching full-day,” Lum says, “and I know how taxing that is, even with an assistant.” Vienneau agrees: “With 24 children now, it’s a busy classroom.”
Mixing JK and SK students in the same class adds to the challenges. Those who teach split-grade kindergarten classrooms say the difference between the two groups of children is even more challenging than split grades with older age groups. JKs have quite different needs, says Angèle Guénette, a North Bay teacher who teaches a class made up of 13 full-day everyday SK students and six half-time JK students. “The SKs know the routines, they’re ready to learn.” Mercier agrees. When she had an all-day everyday SK class, it “made a huge difference” in children’s learning.
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