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A victory has been won for those in town pushing for full-day kindergarten: Money to implement the program has been included in the proposed 2014-'15 Board of Education (BOE) budget.
With a price tag of upwards of $500,000, the expenses to make full-day kindergarten a reality in Guilford are part of the total proposed 4.38 percent increase over last year's BOE budget. This money will cover the cost of hiring six full-time teachers, as well as paraprofessionals, classroom furnishing, additional needed materials, and professional development.
Talk of full-day kindergarten has been ongoing in town since early 2011. Members of the community who are passionate about the issue recently started a petition as well as a Facebook page in support of the Guilford school system's no longer being one of only 36 towns out of the 169 in the state that hasn't adopted an all-day kindergarten program.
"Right now, Guilford kindergarten students are only getting 450 hours of schooling per year," said Courtney Rinaldi, who started a website and petition. "Students in other school systems are getting 900 hours of schooling at this point."
According to Rinaldi, reasons to extend the school day for kindergarteners include allowing the transition from topic to topic to slow and providing more time for recess and special activities like art and music as well as more time in the classroom to focus on things like fine motor skills and social skills, all of which could provide the chance to better prepare students for upcoming Common Core requirements. There is also thought that full-day kindergarten may decrease the number of kids needing remediation in the 1st grade.
Not all residents support the proposal. Guilford resident and parent of two young children (one is entering kindergarten for the 2014-'15 school year) Kathleen Joyce said, "I feel that children who are at the age to enter kindergarten still need to spend that extra time home with their families.
"Although there is research that supports that full-day kindergarten as a positive thing, there is also research that supports that it also creates some negatives," she continued. "I think the children will be exhausted and I feel that our children already have too much shoved at them at such a young age."
Longtime Guilford resident David Roberts also opposes full-day kindergarten, but for some different reasons.
"I think we currently have a graduation rate in town that is somewhere near 100 percent. If we are looking at the end result of making this $500,000 change in town, I question how many more students will graduate if we go to full-day kindergarten," Roberts said. "We are already a good town full of responsible parents, and our education system is strong. There needs to be a point at which the taxpayers are let off the hook."
School administrators say they're working to ensure the financial impact is minimized as the benefits to students are maximized.
"Building a school budget is a complicated process that forces us to make difficult decisions as we prioritize our work and balance what is right for kids with what our town as a whole can best support," Freeman explained. "That said, full-day kindergarten is in the proposed budget that I have presented to the Board of Education. I feel that it is in the best interest of our youngest students to give them more time each day to work toward the increasing academic expectations that we place on them in kindergarten."
He added, "I will continue to work with the Board of Education to balance the cost of full day kindergarten with the rest of our responsibilities, so that we ultimately present a budget that is forward looking for all students and that the residents of Guilford can support."
A public hearing on the BOE's 2014-'15 budget will be held on Monday, Jan. 27 at 7:30 at the Adams Middle School in the chorus room. Rinaldi encourages all concerned parents and Guilford residents to come to the public hearing and support the full-day kindergarten option. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/GuilfordFullDayK.