Upper Arlington Schools to transition to full-day kindergarten for 2021-22 school year

Nate Ellis
ThisWeek group
Upper Arlington School Director of Curriculum and Instruction Michelle Banks

The Upper Arlington class of 2034 will be historic in at least one way.

Kindergarten students entering Upper Arlington Schools in the fall will be the first to attend full-day classes, five days a week.

Due to a transition the district rolled out as part of its facilities master plan, completed in May 2017, it will move to full-day kindergarten classes for the 2021-22 school year.

It will be a departure from the current half-day system, in which students attend a morning session from 8:15-11:05 a.m. or an afternoon session from 12:05-2:50 p.m. Both sessions are Monday through Friday.

“We believe it will better meet the needs of our developing learners so they are able to learn and grow academically, socially and emotionally,” said Michelle Banks, the district's director of curriculum and instruction. “The full-day program provides more time to develop students’ skills in the core academic areas while also maintaining our focus on developing the whole child through social and emotional learning and growth.”

Banks said beginning with next school year, kindergartners’ school days will be structured to support younger learners as they adjust to a full-day learning program, including breaks to allow the students an opportunity to recharge.

“The school day will be built around the learning blocks for the core content areas – math, reading, writing, science (and) social studies – with time for play and ‘brain breaks’ woven in throughout the day.

“Students will have time to work with teachers individually or in small groups to support their learning and reinforce or extend where needed. Each week, students will also have a related arts block that rotates between music, art and physical education.”

When asked how many districts in Ohio offer full-day vs. half-day kindergarten, Ohio Department of Education chief communications officer Mandy Minik provided a link to a 2019-20 kindergarten survey in which a total of 265 districts and private schools responded. Of them, 260 reported full-day kindergarten five days a week.   

District communications director Karen Truett said the transition to full-day kindergarten began during the master planning process as the district began to plan for the reconstruction and renovation of Upper Arlington High School and the district’s five elementary buildings.

“The renovation and rebuild of our elementary schools is what provides enough space for us to accommodate an all-day kindergarten program,” she said. “So the timing is based on the fact that the elementary projects will all be complete this fall with the opening of the new Windermere and the completion of the Barrington renovation.

Banks said the move also supports the district’s “whole learning” goal in its 2019-24 strategic plan. That goal, according to the plan, seeks to “pursue equitable practices that cultivate the diverse gifts, talents, interests and identities of every child as they learn how to serve, lead and succeed.”

“The full-day program provides more time to develop students’ skills in the core academic areas while also maintaining our focus on developing the whole child through social and emotional learning and growth,” Banks said.

District Treasurer Andrew Geistfeld said the change to full-day kindergarten is expected to increase district costs by $1.6 million over the next five years.

As for parents, Laura Oldham, who has a daughter in kindergarten at Barrington Elementary, said prior to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, she would have preferred her daughter attend full-day kindergarten.

As it turned out, and in part because Oldham and her husband, Doug, have been able to work from home during the pandemic, they enrolled their daughter in all virtual classes for the year. And because of the pandemic, Oldham said the half-day version has been ideal.

“I’ve been eternally grateful that this year was still half-day because the workload has been reasonable for us,” Oldham said. “I would have definitely preferred full-day if we were in-person (classes) and we weren’t in a pandemic.

“I don’t anticipate any issues moving to full-day kindergarten for parents or students, but I also don’t know for sure since my kindergarten experience has been so much of an outlier.”

Another parent, Alyssa Merrill will send her daughter to full-day kindergarten at Tremont Elementary for the 2021-22 school year. She will be the first child in kindergarten for her and her husband, Drew.

In part because both work full time, Merrill believes full-day kindergarten will be helpful.

“I actually teach full-day kindergarten in Worthington Schools and had considered bringing my daughter to my school if UA was still in the half-day setting,” she said. “If UA had remained half-day and we sent our child, we would have our 2-year-old at a full-time daycare setting and a half-day kindergartener who then needed care somewhere other than where our 2-year-old is located.

“So yes, we are super thrilled logistically about this full day move.”

In terms of development and learning, Merrill also believes full-day kindergarten will be an improvement.

“We think it is extremely beneficial for our child's learning and growth upon entering the school system,” she said. “I have taught both half-day and full-day, as Worthington offers both.

“The full-day program offers so much more in terms of project-based learning, extension activities that often bridge connections between content areas, more opportunities for play and peer connections within the school day. Children are also welcomed fully to the school community with this format as they are involved in lunch (and) recess at school, will see and receive related arts – music, P.E., etc. – more often, have expanded services with monthly school counselor lessons, etc. 

“We have no apprehensions about the district moving to full-day and we are very excited about this change,” Merrill added.

Children who will be 5 years of age on or before Sept. 30, 2021, are eligible for kindergarten during the 2021-22 school year.  

Families are asked to register their students in kindergarten in the district from Feb. 8 through March 10 to assist the district in staffing and other planning.  

Program and registration information is available at uaschools.org/kindergarten.aspx.

nellis@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNate