After attending the recent forum held by District 97, I’m more convinced than ever that full-day kindergarten is the right thing to do for Oak Park. I commend Dist. 97 for finally bringing this long-held plan to fruition.
In my nine years as a parent of three daughters, I’ve been a stay-at-home mom and a working mom. My children have all attended a NAEYC-accredited preschool and have had a wealth of opportunities to explore their interests (and mine!) during their early childhood years. During the years I’ve been working, we’ve been able to provide our kids with high-quality child care. Whether or not my youngest daughter is able to attend full-day kindergarten, I am confident she will succeed academically.
But in addition to being a mom who cares about my own children’s success is school, I’m also a policy advocate for early childhood issues. For many years, I have worked at the state and local level to develop and implement policies that allow low-income families to access high-quality child care and early education. I know that not all kids have the same opportunities as mine. I also know that all kids have the same innate desire and ability to learn and as parents, we all want our children to succeed in school and in life.
Nearly 20 percent of Dist. 97 students come from low-income families and two-thirds of Oak Park’s children rely on some form of non-parental child care. Some Dist. 97 children spend their kindergarten year at a child care center because the cost and logistics of the part-day kindergarten program are beyond their parents’ means. There are kids who enter Dist. 97 schools who have had little exposure to books, can’t recognize colors or shapes, and believe it or not, can’t tell their teachers their names. Research has proven that if kids don’t catch up by third grade, they’re never going to.
Full-day kindergarten is not going to solve this problem, but it’s an essential piece of the solution. Our schools and teachers put a lot of time and resources into the remediation of problems that could have been identified – and possibly prevented – much earlier.
At the forum last week, a number of teachers and administrators spoke to the benefits of full-day kindergarten. They say that the extra time will give children extra time to engage in developmentally appropriate learning activities and practice new skills. Teachers will have more time to identify and address learning delays.
Full-day kindergarten will undoubtedly be of great benefit to children who enter school with risk factors for underachievement. It saddens me when I hear other parents referring to “those” children with “their” problems. Even when our own children succeed, if we let at-risk children fall into the category of “academic failure”, we have all failed.