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Kindergarten is no longer a morning or an afternoon session in North Branford-from now on, the school system is implementing full-day kindergarten at Jerome Harrison Elementary School. The change comes as an effort to meet the new Common Core Standards, a set of standards in language arts and mathematics designed to provide a consistent understanding of what students are expected to learn. The standards were accepted by the state in July 2010.
The program is taught by six, full-time kindergarten teachers; classrooms are also equipped with full-time paraprofessionals to lower the student-to-adult ratio. According to Superintendent of Schools Scott Schoonmaker, parents are thrilled by the prospect of the full-day program, which the district managed to add despite a zero-percent increase to this year's budget for the school system.
"It's the first time in the history of the North Branford School System that we've been able to offer a full-day program," said Schoonmaker. "It's a significant cost savings for parents. It makes their life easier and it's in the best interests of the child to have a full-day program."
As the Common Core initiative begins in 2014, the program gives kindergarten students a full year to prepare for the higher standards they'll meet coming into 1st grade. Students will enjoy twice the amount of time with teachers, which should greatly enrich language acquisition along with social and creative skills.
"We know this is going to be a great advantage to our young learners," Schoonmaker said. "The bar has been raised and we were hard-pressed in a shortened day to meet those requirements. Now we feel we have the time and the structure to do it in."
Schoonmaker noted that due to day care and preschool, most young children are already acclimatized to the rigors of an extended day. In fact, it might take the parents more time to get used to it.
The children will choose electives, similar to programs at higher grade levels.
"They're going to have exposure to arts, music, physical education, computer labs-things that a 1st- or 2nd grader would do, scaled down to their age group and ability," said Schoonmaker, who noted that the teachers whole-heartedly support the change.
Most schools in the state already offer full-day kindergarten programs, according to Schoonmaker. Previously, cost has been the limiting factor in North Branford. However, with a few consolidations, the program managed to avoid additional costs.
"We were able to be creative in consolidating and moving our current staff around-we did not incur additional costs," he said.
Overall, Schoonmaker said, the program will give a leg-up to students charged with meeting higher academic standards in the years to come.
"We're thrilled to be offering it to the North Branford community," he said. "With additional repetition and exposure to an advanced curriculum, the students will be better prepared as they transition to 1st grade."
Kindergarten started on Wednesday, Aug. 29, the same day as that for the rest of the students in North Branford.