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Full-day kindergarten brings behavioral problems in Norwich

By Claire Bessette

Publication: The Day

Published October 09. 2013 4:00AM
Classes at some schools are large, understaffed

Norwich - This year's transition to full-day kindergarten in the Norwich public schools has been less than smooth in some schools, with the combination of large classes and insufficient staffing leading to behavioral problems in classrooms, at recess and in the cafeteria.

Shane Dupuis, whose daughter attends kindergarten at the Wequonnoc School in Taftville, addressed the Board of Education Tuesday with a three-page letter outlining problems he has seen that have affected his daughter's own behavior. He said his daughter loved preschool last year and looked forward to going to school every day. That has been the opposite this year, he said.

"The behaviors my daughter is now exhibiting, both in school and at home, has included pushing, jumping and general rough play that did not exist at this level a month ago," Dupuis said. "The student/teacher ratio is a huge issue here. One teacher cannot effectively watch and teach 27 students at once."

Norwich launched full-day kindergarten at all schools this year at the insistence of the Board of Education over the summer. Superintendent Abby Dolliver said registrations have been difficult to predict, and class sizes are high at the Wequonnoc, Uncas and John B. Stanton schools.

Wequonnoc has two full-day kindergarten classes with 26 and 27 students. A quirk that has exacerbated the behavioral problems, school officials and Dupuis said, is the gender breakdown of 44 boys to just 10 girls.

"I don't mean to pick on the boys," Wequonnoc Principal Scott Fain said, "but they're boys."

Dolliver said kindergarten classes at Uncas School also are high, at 25 students each. Dolliver said she has capped kindergarten class enrollment at Stanton, Wequonnoc and Uncas, meaning any new students enrolling during the school year will be shifted to other schools and half-day programs only. If students leave, the slots will not be filled until class sizes drop below the targeted total of 23 students.

School officials also are finding that many of this year's kindergarten students did not attend preschool and this is their first school experience.

To increase supervision, Dolliver moved classroom interventionists - hired to provide small group instruction as part of the school system's performance improvement plan - into each Wequonnoc kindergarten classroom. Starting next week, the hours for the interventionists will increase from four to five hours a day, Dolliver said.

Fain said he added staff during lunch and sent a letter to parents asking for volunteers to help students with lunch. Dupuis said his daughter had trouble opening juice boxes and he speculated other students were having the same problem.

Additional teachers were added to recess as well. Board member Jesshua Ballaro, who lives near the school, said she has volunteered at recess as well. She said the problems did not represent "malicious behavior," but rather, rambunctiousness by the 4- and 5-year-olds running, jumping and at times crashing into one another.

"They're all wound up," Ballaro said. "They're just kids being kids."

c.bessette@theday.com

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