Full-day K program means more time for learning and socializing

Full-day K program means more time for learning and socializing

Smithfield kindergarten teachers and elementary school principals met on Aug. 12 to discuss plans for the upcoming school year. All four elementary schools will begin a new full-day kindergarten program this year. According to school superintendent Robert O'Brien, the community had been asking for a full-day program for a long time. (Valley Breeze & Observer photo by Melanie Thibeault)

SMITHFIELD - This year's incoming kindergarten classes will have more time to learn (and play) than their predecessors in the Smithfield public school district. Through funding by the Town Council, Smithfield has implemented a full-day kindergarten program in all four elementary schools: Old County Road, William Winsor, Anna M. McCabe and Raymond C. LaPerche.

According to Assistant Superintendent Bridget Morisseau, this is the perfect time to implement the program now that the schools have space. Robert O'Brien, superintendent of Smithfield Public Schools, added that enrollment has leveled off over the past couple of years.

The seven kindergarten teachers (including two who are new to the Smithfield school district), four elementary school principals, and two special education teachers met last week in the school administration building to schedule and plan for the upcoming school year.

O'Brien expressed his gratitude for the teachers "coming in during the summer" to plan. Many discussions were had about how to structure the full-day program to best educate the students, and O'Brien touched upon the importance of kindergartners' developmental processes when he said that planning focused on "the whole child."

"Kindergarten is a child's first impression of school," he said. "It can set up success all throughout the child's schooling."

According to O'Brien, the community had been asking for a full-day program for a long time.

Last fall, a citizens advisory board was created to gauge public interest and response to the idea of shifting from a half-day to a full-day kindergarten program. The board included members of the Financial Review Committee and Town Council, as well as parents of students in the Smithfield public schools.

The board hosted a public forum, and O'Brien said that the idea received a lot of support from the community.

The only critique O'Brien and Morisseau said they heard during the public meeting was from a parent who believed that full-day kindergarten wouldn't allow any play time for the children.

At last week's meeting, administrators and teachers said that they believe that full-day kindergarten will actually do the opposite. Full days can include "exploratory times," such as recess, lunch and social time for students to interact and bond.

Teachers will have time during full days to instruct children in socialization, whereas the fast-paced structure of half days did not allow for more than academic lesson plans.

A full-day program will also allow teachers to spend more time on each subject and delve deeper into every content area.

"There will be less arrows from Tuesday's (lesson plan) to Wednesday's," said Patrice Martinelli, a kindergarten teacher at Old County Road School.

Longer days also mean that programs like physical education and music, which were nearly impossible during half days, can now begin to be added to the curriculum.

The switch to full days might "take some time to build stamina (in students)," said Fran Harris, kindergarten teacher at Anna McCabe Elementary School, so teachers and administrators discussed the possibility of "reset" periods - 10 or 15 minute breaks after recess and lunch to transition the students back into a learning mindset.

The full-day kindergarten classes will have between 15 and 25 students. Smaller classes will mean more individualized time for teachers to get to know students.

In order to ease kindergartners into the schedule, the schools are holding two separate days of orientation. Half of the students will go to school on Tuesday, and the other half on Wednesday. All students will come together on Thursday.

Old County and Winsor's orientations will begin at 9 a.m. McCabe and LaPerche at 9:30 a.m. There will be meetings and introductions for both students and parents.

Morisseau said that if parents of kindergartners did not receive an orientation letter, they should go online to the Smithfield Public Schools website to obtain a copy. The letter contains important scheduling information.