All-day school for tots

This September marks the first year in a five-year government plan to phase in extend kindergarten hours throughout Ontario schools.

The start of all-day kindergarten in Ontario’s schools this month has some educators excited about the added teaching time despite the added strain to the system. Thirty Scarborough schools now offer all-day kindergarten in the first phase of the province’s five-year plan. Seven more will offer it next year.

Before the start of the program, every two kindergarteners equalled one full-time student. Schools are now faced with double the number of kindergarteners.

“We have schools in certain pockets of the city that are busting at the seams with five, six portables on site,”said Scott Harrison, Ward 19 trustee with the Toronto District School Board. “So when you turn around and introduce all-day kindergarten, you’ve now increased that school by however many kindergarteners are at the school.

“Some schools are scrambling trying to find extra space — coat hooks and cubbies, stuff like that — because now they’re going to be there for the whole day.”

Even with space constraints, the benefits of all-day learning have already been identified. “The earlier you can get a child to learn, the more they can take in,” said Harrison.

Priscilla Yu, principal of Agnes McPhail Public School in Agincourt, says the program is off to a great start in her school, which currently has two all-day kindergarten classes.“The fact that the teacher can have more time in the program to consolidate those basic skills through different means, different activities, is a big help,” said Yu.

According to the Ministry of Education, about 600 Ontario schools now offer the program. That number is set to increase to 800 in 2011.

Every classroom will be equipped with a teacher and an early childhood educator who will construct a full-day curriculum of play-based learning activities. However, with a surplus of teachers, this does not mean more jobs for educators.

“Part of the criteria for Phase 1 was low overheard costs,” Harrison said. “In other words, find schools that can accommodate the classes with little to no construction costs, start-up costs, that kind of thing.”

All-day kindergarten is not mandatory and parents have the option of enrolling their children part time. The program is provided at no added cost to families, but before- and after-school programs will be offered at school-specific fees, some of which will be subsidized.

“It’s still early,” said Harrison. “It just started a week ago so I think everybody is still feeling it out.”

“It’s an exciting initiative and I think the ministry and the board have done their best to get this program up to a wonderful start,” added Yu.

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