Full-day junior kindergarten will be available at two yet-to-be determined schools within this region next fall as the province begins phasing in full-day learning for four- and five-year-olds across Ontario.
The move towards full-day junior kindergarten is “good news, good direction, [and] good possibilities” said Mary-Catherine Kelly, director of education for the Northwest Catholic District School Board.
But there are a lot of things that have to be worked out as the program begins to unfold for the 2010/11 school year, she warned.
The implementation of full-day JK will be gradual, stressed Heather Campbell, superintendent of education for the Rainy River District School Board.
Both boards will see one full-day JK classroom start up in the 2010/11 school year, and an additional classroom the second year.
The province expects full implementation by 2015.
As part of this full-day plan, the province also will be implementing programming so parents can enrol their JK-aged child for extended hours before and after regular school hours within the same school facilities—for a fee.
At this point, said Campbell, the public board still is working with the Ministry of Education and will be getting more information over the course of the next few months about what the actual structure of the day will be for the students.
“We just know that it’s a blended staffing model—an early childhood educator working with one teacher,” she noted, adding the average class size will be 26 students, which is different than the primary class size.
Boards are expected to provide the Ministry of Education with the chosen sites for the 2010/11 school year by the end of November, and the public will be advised of the selected locations across the province in January as registration for the new school year begins.
Guidelines for site selection include available space, the impact on existing local child care, and local need.
“At this point in time, we are having to connect with all of our stakeholders,” noted Kelly.
“This is all sort of new information for us and there’s lots of areas that have to be discussed,” she stressed, noting this means meeting speaking with fellow school boards, Social Service Administration Boards, local day care providers, and communities about where the best placement for the program will be.
While the move towards full-day junior kindergarten will create jobs, Campbell conceded it does mean local day care providers may be impacted.
“So we need to work with them, as well,” she remarked.
There are “lots of things to work out” before next September, Kelly said, including busing schedules, sites, dialogues with unions, connecting with early childhood educators and day cares, discussion over supervisions, enrolment predictions, talking with municipalities, and “all of those kind of things.”
“We’re just kind of in the early stages,” she admitted, adding the province was “probably wise” to phase in the full-day programming instead of doing a full-fledged rollout.
But both school boards see a benefit to the implementation of the full-day programming for this age group.
“It’s very positive because as the past Pascal report states, the early learning gives a solid foundation for every student,” said Campbell, referring to the report by the province’s special advisor on early learning, Dr. Charles E. Pascal, which outlined the best way to implement full-day learning for four- and five-year-olds.
“It just provides that support for all of our students,” she noted. “Basically it gives everybody a great early start, a solid foundation.”
Campbell cited how the board, with the implementation of full-day senior kindergarten, has seen growth in students achieving benchmarks such as reading and writing earlier.
“[Early learning] is especially important for kids who need early intervention,” she stressed. “They get the support earlier, and so the gap is much smaller or perhaps even eliminated.
“So that’s really important for us.
“It’s best for all, but necessary for some.”
Other opportunities with the implementation of this full-day system include having “seamless support for families,” said Kelly, noting the system will mean “one-stop shopping” for the supervision of children before and after the school day.
“I think certainly, in a time of downsizing of the economy, that will help families economically,” she added.
As well, there are advantages to having the same teacher and early childhood educator together as part of a child’s care-giving, she continued, pointing to how the partnership between the ECE and teachers will mean a “continuum of curriculum” as the child goes through the program.
As for the costs of implementing the full-day program, each of the boards have received about $100,000 from the province to run the first classroom for the 2010/11 school year.
“That involves salary, resources, [but] no capital at this time, so we’re going to have to look at existing open spaces to implement this,” said Campbell.
While the local Catholic board hasn’t done any of the costing yet for implementing the first classroom next fall, Kelly said they don’t expect this amount to cover all the costs.
Down the road, there is the possibility of some cost reductions when it comes to busing, she noted, since the board no longer would have to arrange separate busing for the JK students who are, at the moment, only present for half-days.
“But then there will be additional costs in other areas, so it might balance out in the long run but we really don’t know all of that yet,” she remarked.