The Canton Board of Education Tuesday night unanimously voted to continue the extended-day kindergarten program next year.
The vote extends the two optional and “lottery” based extended-day sessions at Cherry Brook Primary School to next year and retains the $3,500 fee for Canton parents. School officials, however, said no family would be turned away due to inability to pay.
Prior to the vote, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Jordan Grossman, Cherry Brook Principal Andrew Robbin and extended-day teachers Jessica Papp and Kelly Theriault presented the board with an update on the program.
The presentation included data, videos, examples of student progress and remarks from the teachers.
While it’s difficult to compare students, Robbin said many statistics indicate that the extended-day students are either ahead of normal progress, or in the case of some struggling students, manage to stay statistically comparable to their peers.
Papp and Theriault gave some specific examples of student progress. The teachers also spoke in favor of the program.
Theriault, who was a morning kindergarten teacher last year, said it’s a gift to have the extra time each day. For example, two reading initiatives and a writing program are offered every day rather than the two days a week in the half-day program. Having an entire day also allows time to plan more, yet gives students mental breaks and time for socialization.
“There’s just so much more I can accomplish,” she said.
Board members had some questions on the program.
Peg Berry, for example, asked about those children who nap and the possible fatigue of going to school all day.
While some students were allowed to nap, they usually quickly get used to the change and soon no longer need to, teachers said.
“It’s really not as much of an issue as you would think,” Papp said.
Board Chairwoman Beth Kandrysawtz said it was one issue discussed last year when the board decided to expand the pilot program to two sessions for this school year. Kandrysawtz said a half-day session can also be stressful due to the need to pack a lot of material into a short timespan.
In the past some parents have also questioned whether the extended day students would have an unfair advantage over some of their classmates. While he didn’t specifically mention those questions, Robbin said first graders typically come in at varying abilities and the workshop model the school uses easily adapts to that but still allows for individual help and progress.
He also said many parents appreciated the optional nature of the program.
“I was very surprised at the number of parents who were excited to have a choice,” he said.
This year, 37 students are in the extended day program, nine of whom are “Project Choice” students from Hartford. The Canton students were chosen randomly and interest did exceed available slots.
School officials do not yet know how many slots will be open next year and overall kindergarten enrollment is expected to rise from 114 right now. Case had initially asked the board to vote on the matter at its meeting in early February.
The board, however, felt a vote Tuesday would allow Robbin to inform parents at a kindergarten orientation next week that the school would be offering the program.
Last year, the tuition, charged for the first time this year, sparked some debate amongst the board but did not Tuesday although a few members did ask about it. Kandrysawtz said scholarships are available for any financially struggling family whose child made the lottery based program. She also said it is still less expensive than a half-day of day care.
The board also plans to talk more about the program at budget time. While the tuition and grant funds the state awards for the Hartford students in the program make it a financially viable program for two sessions, potential budget and space challenges would need to be discussed before the program could expand.
Case on Tuesday declined to say if he would like to see the program expanded and said those discussions would come during budget season.