When Gov. Dannel P. Malloy showed up at Mountain View Elementary School in Bristol Friday morning, he was introduced to eight fourth graders from the school’s student council.
“I’ve held office continuously since fourth grade, with the exception of one year,” he told them. “Keep up the good work.”
However it wasn’t the fourth graders he came to visit. They were his tour guides to the school’s three kindergarten classes, to see how they are adapting to Bristol’s full-day kindergarten program, which just started last fall.
Malloy was there with newly confirmed state Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell, Stephen McKeever, first vice president for the American Federation of Teachers Connecticut, and local officials.
In Holly-Caruso-Pugliese’s class, they watched as the young students worked with flash cards showing shapes and simple spelling. In Misty-Dawn Palaia’s class the kids were using straws and clay to create geometric shapes such as a cube. In Jennifer McCaffrey’s class, students were working in small groups on various subjects.
The governor’s group then paid a visit to Southington’s Hatton Elementary School for a tour of the full-day kindergarten program, which began in the 2013-14 school year.
In each classroom, young students lined up on brightly colored rugs and eagerly shared what they were studying in school.
“We’re measuring the flowers we’re growing for our moms,” said Ian Cerra, a student in Sharon Wagner’s class.
Another student mentioned seeing baby ducks with their mother outside. “Do you know there are 220 different kinds of ducks?” asked Malloy. The fact seemed to amaze several students.
“Your teacher tells me the kind you saw was a mallard,” he said. “Mallards partner for life. They also come into my swimming pool where I live.”
After the tour, Malloy spoke to several mothers whom had come to the school for a Mother’s Day program.
“I’m very impressed by the teachers, the programs and the skills development I saw from your children today,” he said.
Hatton Principal Sally Kamerbeek said she chaired the kindergarten committee but she thanked Assistant Superintendent Karen Smith, who was instrumental in establishing full-day kindergarten in Southington.
“Together, we met once every month to plan the program. Every month, teachers would tell us how wonderful it is. It allows us to provide students with a full physical, social, emotional and academic education,” Kamerbeek said.
“We’re very proud of what we’ve accomplished here,” said Southington Superintendent Timothy Connellan. “When I came to this district I was very excited to see that they had implemented full-day kindergarten. After the first year, students scored significantly higher than on previous screenings and were more advanced emotionally and socially.”
It’s a fact that some communities are doing a better job with education than others, and the challenge of education reform is to take what works and make it universally applicable, Malloy said during his Bristol appearance.
“We know that full day kindergarten makes a real difference,” he said. “We have school systems that have had full-day kindergarten for 50 years, and yet we have a handful of school systems that have not yet implemented full-day kindergarten.”
He said he is calling for statewide implementation of full-day kindergarten by 2017, to go with his push for universal access to pre-kindergarten.
Many pre-kindergarten programs are already full-day, Malloy said. “So it doesn’t make sense for the students the next year to go to half-day kindergarten.”
Kindergarten is an incredibly important time for students, Wentzell said. “How they begin has a huge impact on how well they do throughout our educational system.”
“For instance, we know that students being able to read at expectation by the end of third grade is critically important for their success in later schooling and eventually in their adult lives,” she said.
Wentzell said full-day provides students with more time to learn, as well as giving teachers more time to get to know students and pay attention to their social and emotional development.
The longer school day “really gives teachers the room for creativity to bring learning to life in a fun and engaging way,” she said.
McKeever said that as a teacher himself he sees the advantages of both pre-kindergarten and full-day kindergarten.
Students learn more than their half-day peers, so their first grade readiness is much higher, their test scores are higher, and studies show they are 26 percent more likely to reach third grade without repeating a grade, he said.
“There was a study at the University of Virginia that says that the learning gains, on a dollar-to-dollar cost, are better for full-day kindergarten than in any of these other early interventions that we can put together,” he said.
“In addition to the academics, there is a much better social and emotional development for these students, which decreases the drop-out rates later on in life,” McKeever added.