While the first day of kindergarten is always a big moment for students and parents – filled with tears, excitement and, of course, photos – it was especially monumental for families at Columbine Elementary this year. Colorado’s Governor, Jared Polis was part of a delegation on hand to welcome students to school in celebration of the launch of full-day kindergarten in the Boulder Valley School District and across the state.
“Welcome to kindergarten. Today is your first day,” Governor Polis said to an arriving kindergartner and her family. “On the first day not only the governor greets you, but we’ve got the chair of the state board of education, members of the local board of education and the superintendent to wish you a happy first day.”
It was because of the tireless work of Governor Polis and state lawmakers that additional dollars were made available to BVSD and other school districts, allowing us to expand from half-day kindergarten to full-day classes at all of our elementary schools this fall.
“It is going wonderfully due to the Herculean efforts of everyone who made it happen, starting with Governor Polis and the legislature,” said East Support Network Area Superintendent Robbyn Fernandez, who helped to lead the effort for BVSD.
“Full-day kindergarten has also long been on the Board of Education’s legislative platform,” added Fernandez. “With their support, we have been ahead of the curve. We have offered full-day instruction at 11 schools that serve at-risk students, solidifying the most important piece of the full-day kindergarten – our instructional model. Meanwhile, the district has used bond dollars to ensure that we had the facilities needed for this day.”
Years ago, when Columbine and the other BVSD Title I schools (those that receive federal funding for serving at-risk students) began providing full-day kindergarten, they realized that extending the school day for kindergartners alone wasn’t cutting it.
“We know that because our previous data showed us that just having twice as much time with kids does not improve outcomes. It is having excellent instructional practice, embedded into what is developmentally appropriate for our youngest learners,” Fernandez said. “That is what is so important.”
This summer, there were several days of professional development for kindergarten teachers across the district, to be sure they were ready for full-day. In addition to hearing from nationally renowned inclusion and early childhood education expert Kristie Pretti-Frontczak, they learned from the BVSD teachers that have been doing this work for more many years.
“The professional development was led by these amazing anchor teachers, who already understand this model and have implemented it in our schools and are then able to share their practices is really crucial,” Fernandez said.
Training was offered in literacy, mathematics, music and movement and environments.
Of course, one of the most important aspects will remain play.
“Yes, they do get to play. It is intentional play. It is highly structured,” Fernandez explained. “Classrooms are set up with different centers including play kitchens, play veterinary offices and costume centers, so they can do the work of kids – imagination, creativity, interaction and fantasy -- that is the work of children.”
Now with full-day kindergarten has been successfully implemented, the focus in BVSD is moving to ensuring any gains in learning we see in kindergarten, are built upon in higher grades. This will be part of the effort as educators work to build a new guaranteed and viable curriculum for the district, which is part of BVSD’s new Strategic Plan.
Meanwhile, conversation is already underway at the Capitol about universal preschool, something that BVSD supports.
“The sooner we can get them the better,” Fernandez said. “We already do a lot of work in supporting families with young children so that they are prepared for school. [Universal Preschool] would ensure every learner has the opportunity to participate, if they want.”
LEARN MORE: Early Childhood Readiness Resources