It was a day of firsts for many kindergarten teachers in Elgin-based School District U46 on Wednesday.
Zahidee Marcano, one of more than 115 kindergarten teachers who greeted excited students in the district that is launching a full-day program, said this year offers something special.
"I'm so excited because I was part of the ELL program for many years," said Marcano, an English Language Learners kindergarten teacher at O'Neal Elementary. "It was mostly an intervention program. With this here, we have the opportunity to be part of full-day kindergarten. Before it was focused on at-risk students. Now all students have the benefit."
The district has been working for more than a year to implement the program, which will serve more than 2,500 students during the 2016-17 academic year.
"The community has been overwhelmingly supportive of full-day kindergarten," said Peggy Ondera, director of early learner initiatives.
She said launching full-day kindergarten is an important step in meeting the changing needs of the district.
"It was very important to add that but also to incorporate that time in a developmentally appropriate way for children," she said.
Marcano, who has taught in the district for 20 years, said the program aims to create a whole new learning environment.
"They will help each other, with the teacher there to guide them," she said.
Under the new program, Marcano said even subject areas that are viewed as challenging to students will see improvement. Children will be able to develop deeper understandings of material presented in class, she said. The program changes are even reflected in the set up of Marcano's classroom.
"It changed due to the fact that the program is play-based," she said, noting that the arrangement is meant to enhance the learning experience for each subject area. "Those areas will change throughout the day."
Marcano said coursework in math is a common challenge for children and will be enhanced in a full six-hour day. She said lesson plans are designed to engage children in ways that reach them on a number of levels.
"They can touch it," she said of sensory-based learning experiences. "They can see it. They can understand that. Part of the learning experience makes math more accessible to them."