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Full-day kindergarten coming to McKee Elementary

| Wednesday, July 23, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

When school starts next month in the Jeannette School District, all incoming kindergartners will attend a full-day program for the first time.

Last year, there were two full-day classrooms and students were assigned to those rooms by the district.

It was a way to provide more academic time to some students who may have had a need and a way to test the waters for a full-day program across the board.

Sandy Shaw, a kindergarten teacher at Jeannette, said she hasn't heard anything negative about the big change and in fact, she knows many parents are excited about the increased school time.

Shelley Muto, elementary principal, said parents are aware of what the state requires students to learn and at what rate that learning is expected to take place.

“The demands of what the state puts on kids to know by the end of kindergarten is high and parents know that,” said Muto.

As a half-day kindergarten teacher, who continued to teach the half-day sessions last school year, Shaw said she is eager for the full-day program to begin — for several reasons.

“I feel I will cover more material at a regular pace instead of rush-rush,” Shaw said. “Two-and-a-half hours is not enough time.”

“We're literally doubling the mount of academics (students) are getting,” said Muto.

Another improvement in the eyes of the educators is that class sizes will be smaller and two teachers have been added to the kindergarten staff. So far, each class has about 14 students and there are six classrooms.

There will be some increase in enrollment as the first day of school draws closer, but Muto doesn't expect the class sizes to be any more than 20 students each at most.

As a teacher who has had two classrooms full of students — and two classrooms worth of parents — to get to know each year, Shaw feels like she will form better relationships with children and their guardians now that she has half the amount to manage each year.

“Our parents can get more involved because you'll make better connections with the parents,” said Muto.

“You used to have to connect with 40 to 50 sets of parents. You'll have more communication based on sheer numbers.”

Another bonus for the students — and the teachers who will get them later in their school careers — is that the children will have much more time to get used to the transitions throughout the day and they will know how everything at school works well before entering first grade.

“The reading skills will become better, they will be more fluent,” said Shaw.

“They will have more time to practice phonics and be more prepared for first grade.”

Muto agreed and said that in half-day programs, teachers are only able to touch the surface of most topics.

“They will get more in-depth into the knowledge, which requires a higher level of thinking,” said Muto.

“It will not make our students feel rushed because we will have that extra time.

“It will be so much more relaxed, which leads to a better learning environment.”

Muto said she is excited for the full-day program to begin, but even more than that, she is excited to see the progress of this year's kindergarten students three years from now.

“I can't wait until it's three years from now to see the difference.

“With all of this instruction and material they will be exposed to, three or four years from now we should see a better foundation of education and begin to close the gap of where we should be and where we are.”

Also added to the program this year will be Angela Gray, who is going to be a full-time reading specialist assigned only to kindergarten and first grades.

Her work will cover the entire spectrum from helping students who may not have attended preschool to catch up to their kindergarten peers in terms of skills all the way to helping students who have advanced beyond the skills learned in kindergarten and who need enrichment experiences.

Shaw said the idea is to keep pushing the kids who are at a higher reading level to continually improve and reach even higher levels, rather than letting those students stagnate because they must keep pace with the entire class.

The work Gray will do with those students who need extra help will work in a very similar way.

Those students will get added lessons and additional help, to push them to reach the level of their classmates so that they can also reach higher reading levels by the end of the year.

This year there will be six kindergarten teachers — Shaw, Jessica McClain, Valerie DeMichele, Carey Mortimore, Lauren Harris and Katie Carter.

The additions didn't cause budget woes this year, because several teacher retirements freed up the necessary funds.

Students and parents will learn their room assignments shortly and have been invited to attend kindercamp from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m., Aug. 11-15, at McKee Elementary School.

Children will meet their classmates and their teachers and have a chance to go through the motions of a school day while participating in various activities.

Shaw said the camp helps students feel more confident the first day of school, which is Aug. 25.

They will already know their teachers and they'll know a bit about the school building and what to expect when they arrive.

There is no registration required for kindercamp, invitations have been sent to the families of all incoming kindergartners, but the organizers would appreciate a phone call confirming who will attend.

Parents can call the elementary school office at 724-523-6522.

Kristie Linden is an editor for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at or 724-838-5154.

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