Q & A with Kalia Reynolds, Ed.D.
● By Steven Hoffman
Q: The Avon Grove School District will be introducing a full-day kindergarten program starting with the 2017-18 school year. How are the preparations for that going?
A: We’re excited about FDK preparations for the 2017-2018 school year. Our action team, comprised of numerous staff members from different departments in our district, meets regularly to confirm project plans. Programming and scheduling are mostly complete. Currently, we’re working on facilities and finalizing a communications plan. With facilities, the focus is on securing the necessary permissions and permits to move forward with installing modulars at Penn London Elementary School to accommodate some of the older students, as we will need additional space for full-day kindergarten. Communication and planning are essential to the success of launching this program, so we’re in the process of scheduling information sessions for our community this fall.
Q: What are some of the advantages of a full-day program over a half-day program?
A: At two and a half hours, our current half-day program is shorter than most area preschool programs. Time is the biggest advantage of a full-day program, as it will give our teachers adequate time to address the learning standards across multiple content areas. Research shows that students in a FDK program develop stronger foundational skills, especially in the areas of math, reading, and social competence. A full-day program expands the scope of 21st-century learning skills, such as creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and communication. We can allow our teachers and students to slow down and make learning more meaningful, rather than trying to cram it all into a half day.
We are in good company with the move to full-day kindergarten. Between 70 and 80 percent of kindergarteners statewide and nationwide attend full-day programs, and more than half of the school districts in Chester County will offer full-day programs by next year. Our district vision states, “All Avon Grove students are well prepared to create their own futures.” We believe that offering a full-day program is a major component of helping us to realize this vision.
Q: What benefits would you expect to see for Avon Grove students as they move on to first grade after having a full-day kindergarten program?
A: Research shows that students who come from a FDK program show increased levels of mastery of basic, essential skills. Students come to first grade prepared, and that reduces the time needed to review core concepts and skills. As a result, teachers are able to expose students to deeper learning opportunities. State research shows students who attended FDK did twice as well on their PSSA math tests in third grade than students who attended half-day programs.
Q: What else do parents need to know about the change to a full-day program?
A: Throughout the planning process for FDK, our focus has been on creating a program that is based on developmentally appropriate practices. Structured play, discovery, and inquiry-based learning are important for our kindergarten learners, and we will be sure that our program provides that.
We expect that parents may have concerns such as, “Will the program be too intense for my child?” and “How do I know if my child is ready for a full-day program?” These kinds of questions are very reasonable and we will be addressing them. We believe our program will be flexible and provide the right mix of structure, age-appropriate play, and breaks for our kindergarteners. We are excited about getting them engaged in learning in deeper and more meaningful ways that we simply can’t do in a half-day program. Teachers will have more time to work individually with each student, and we can meet each learner at their level and work with them in ways that boost their individual learning style.
Q: This is going to be a big change for the district, so it's obviously going to be very important for parents to register their children for kindergarten as early as possible, isn't it?
A: Timely registration is essential for adequate planning for enrollment and transportation. We’ll begin the kindergarten registration process in late February.
Q: Are there any information sessions coming up that parents should attend?
A: Information sessions are being scheduled and will be posted to the Avon Grove website and other news sources such as the district newsletter, e-mail, and local child care and learning centers.
Q: Where else can parents turn for information about Avon Grove's full-day kindergarten program?
A: Our school district website is a great resource for parents. For example, parents can go to our site to quickly access the page for FDK. In addition, information and updates will also be posted to Penn London Elementary School’s website.
Q: Avon Grove has talked about implementing a full-day kindergarten program for many years, and the administrative team really came out in support of the initiative. You expect there to be real educational benefits for students, right?
A: We wouldn’t be moving forward if we didn’t think this was the best educational decision for our students. We are very excited about the many ways in which we feel this will improve the education of our youngest learners.
The Avon Grove School District's website is www.avongrove.org.