“It’s a long day, but there’s lots to be done,” said Jennifer Treubig, a kindergarten teacher at the Clarence Rogers School at 199 Wilmot Rd. in West Rock.
Treubig rounded up her new students on Friday, the first day of class for kindergartners in public schools citywide. (She’s pictured placing Class of 2027 mortar boards on the kids’ heads, marking the year the district expects them to graduate from college, during a press event at the school.)
Besides their new hats, some of which flopped to the ground amid wiggling, kindergartners had big changes in store for them.
Clarence Rogers is part of the Brennan/Rogers K-8 school, one of the city’s first two “turnaround” schools as part of a citywide reform effort that’s hitting classrooms this fall. Based mostly on test scores, Brennan/Rogers was chosen to undergo a dramatic transformation, including a 70 percent staff turnover and a new set of school rules.
Kindergartners will stay in class for nearly eight hours, longer than any other kindergartners in the district. Like the rest of the kids at Brennan/Rogers, their school day has been extended from 8:20 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. as part of the reforms. That’s an additional 1 hour and 25 minutes compared to last year.
Like other kindergartners across the district, the students at Clarence Rogers won’t get any naps.
New Haven is one of the only districts in the state to offer full-day kindergarten, Mayor John DeStefano noted at a press appearance Friday at the school. This is the first time the district is extending those kids’ school day to reach nearly eight hours.
The new schedule was put together by Brennan/Rogers staff in consultation with top school administrators. It aims to maximize “time on task,” and to add more variety of programming, said Jennifer Olson, assistant principal of Brennan/Rogers. Olson runs the Clarence Rogers half of the two-building campus. This year, her school is adding a kindergarten class, for a total of three classrooms serving 80 kids.
Some of the kids who showed up to Treubig’s class Friday are only 4 years old. The requirement is that they must turn 5 on or before Jan. 1, 2011. Because of the city’s robust pre-K program, 80 percent of students arrive in kindergarten having already attended pre-K. Others come from daycare, or straight from home. With 30 4-year-olds entering kindergarten this year, many need to learn how to follow rules before they can hit the books.
One little girl, untrained in the rules of the classroom, snuck up to the whiteboard while her teacher was talking Friday and started erasing. A paraprofessional pulled the eraser from her hand and sent her back to join her classmates, who were posing for a photo with the superintendent.
Basic classroom behavior—raising hands, sitting down, and be quiet when the teacher’s talking—will be only the beginning of a year of learning.
Assistant Principal Olson said the students face a range of academic expectations. They’ll learn to identify letters, rhyme, and count syllables. By the end of this school year, they students will be reading aloud from books, paying attention to punctuation, using different voices when they see dialogue in quotation marks, she said.
“This is a curriculum,” Olson said.
In a visit to Treubig’s classroom, Mayor DeStefano wondered aloud if kids would withstand the rigorous plans.
Eight hours “sounds like a long day” for kindergarten, he said. He said his wife, Kathy, who teaches first grade, thinks so.
Marcy Guddemi at the Gesell Institute of Human Development said she supports a longer kindergarten school day, with two conditions—rest and “learning through play.” Guddemi, who has a PhD in early childhood education, is executive director of the New-Haven-based not-for-profit, which provides research and information on the topic.
“If there is a proper rest period, there’s no problem with them staying all day,” Guddemi said. She noted that many kids stay in day care all day while their parents work.
One benefit of a longer day is it allows time for kids to “learn through play”—doing hands-on activities, manipulating concrete objects, being active, and using all of their senses, she said.
“When there’s a longer school day, teachers tend to allow and be able to do more of learning through play,” Guddemi said. “They don’t feel so compelled to stick to the paper and pencil.”
Throughout the day, Clarence Rogers kids will get one 20-minute recess period, and an hour-long period for gym, art or music, Olson said.
Olson said her kindergartners won’t be getting naps, per se—but they will get “periods of rest,” when the teacher dims the lights and plays soft classical music. The students don’t lie on the floor and sleep. They can read, sit quietly, or briefly doze off. The schedule for the downtime hasn’t yet been set. On Friday afternoon, kids at Clarence Rogers got a 15-minute period of rest at their desks, according to Olson. Most put their heads down. Some caught a wink.
While the long, napless day may be new for kindergartners, it isn’t new for Treubig.
She comes to the school after teaching kindergarten at Elm City College Prep Elementary, an Achievement First charter school in Wooster Square.
At Elm City, students in grades K to 4 go to school from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., for a total of 8.5 hours. The schedule has been that way since the school was founded seven years ago, said Principal Morgan Barth.
“It’s a tough transition for a lot of kindergartners at the beginning of the year,” Barth said, “but they get used to it.”
The longer school day is crucial to helping urban kids catch up with their suburban peers, he said.
“As hard as it is to believe, our kindergartners are actually “behind” even before they’ve begun school,” Barth said. The main reason for the longer day is to squeeze in 3.5 hours of reading, he said.
The longer day is one emerging trend as New Haven’s low-performing city schools look to charters as a model for reform. The city’s other turnaround school, Domus Academy, is being run by a charter group. That school, which serves students in grades 6 to 8, will go to school from 7:15 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The change wasn’t possible in public schools until this year, after teachers ratified a landmark teaching contract that allowed schools to waive some work rules at select few “turnaround” schools.
More students may face longer days at other schools, too, as the city moves forward with the second year of its school reform drive, said schools spokeswoman Michelle Wade. Brennan/Rogers is one of a seven pilot schools were tiered in time for this year. In November, all schools are due to be graded and placed into three tiers. The lowest-tier schools will have the option of making major changes—which may include a longer school day.
Barth credited the longer day as “a primary factor” in boosting reading scores at his school.
“There are no shortcuts. It just takes more time reading, more time reading independently, more time with kids with noses in books,” Barth said.
“It’s totally worth a couple of cranky weeks until kids build up the stamina.”
Past stories on the Brennan/Rogers School: