Singing and dancing to the “Hokey Pokey” was by design in Zahidee Marcano's kindergarten classroom at O'Neal Elementary School, as was her students gathering on the floor to read aloud from a picture book.
Marcano is one of more than 120 teachers in the new full-day kindergarten program within District U46 that is serving more than 2,700 students in 40 elementary schools. She loves that now she has time to incorporate more time for play-based learning.
“That mature play gives you the tools to build that literacy, math, science, art and language,” she said. “Through that play, you as a teacher can get all the kids information and you can teach everything through play.”
She previously worked as a half-day kindergarten teacher and compare how she can now target all the necessary subject areas and provide time for exploration. For example, Marcano asked if the children were ready for story time, assessing they could pay attention just after coming from the gym
In unison, students answered “yes.” They then tried hard to sit, behave and listen, and were rewarded with a puppet, known to the class as Old Lady.
“It’s really (an) advantage for the kids to have that range of time in the classroom for the teacher to become prepared for extended learning with the students,” Marcano said. “It’s amazing to see how they grow, how you as a teacher can target those student’s needs, that you have more time to work with them.”
Long a goal for District U46, full-day kindergarten started in August. Peggy Ondera, director of early learners initiatives, said the district has a noted a number of differences in working with children to this point.
“There’s been a lot of anecdotal information from teachers and parents,” she said. “We just finished data collection from the (Kindergarten Individual Development Survey) assessment,” and that baseline data will be included in student reports this month. Other observations will be available in February and May.
“One of the benefits of KIDS is that it looks at the whole child—social-emotional as well as what we call approaches to learning,” Ondera said.
The hope, according to Marcano, is that students will build proficiency in skills and knowledge needed to transfer from grade to grade.
“It’s growing, you can see how the kids start from day (one) to just 50 days that we have in school and the language and the classroom routines and the expectations are higher for them,” she said.