For the past three years, Longmont resident Jocelyn Gilligan and her family have been heavily involved in the St. Vrain Valley School District kindergarten program.
Gillgan is the mother of two SVVSD students, Emmett, a kindergartener and Eloise, a second grader. When the pandemic hit, both children moved to online learning and Gilligan has been really happy with how the past year has unfolded for her children, she said.
“We have relatively independent children and have been really happy with how St. Vrain has handled the pandemic in offering virtual school this year,” she said, adding the online format has allowed for more opportunities for her daughter Eloise to have one-on-one time with her teacher while her son, Emmett, has had the opportunity to work beyond his grade level..
“Instead of doing kinder math, (Emmett) was assigned the virtual model for 1st grade math,” said Gilligan. “I don't think this would have been feasible to do in a classroom setting. Being in this environment doing work independently, they were able to give more (advanced) stuff to him.”
Gilligan believes that the transition into full time education for children can help set them for success early on.
“They will eventually be in school full time and starting them out younger may be an advantage for them to get to know the other kids,” she said. “My kids learned so much (in kindergarten) that I wouldn't have known to teach them … It’s beneficial for them to do it because it gives them a leg up in learning, they are in class with other kids, building friendships, building those blocks earlier on.”
For Latinx parents, especially those who are immigrants, access to full-day kindergarten is important in order to set young children up for success later in life, said Tere García, executive director at Engaged Latino Parents Advancing Student Outcomes, or ELPASO, a regional nonprofit organization working with local families working to close achievement gap between Latino and Anglo students in Boulder County.
“Many Latino parents who come to this country need to immediately locate kindergarten programs and learn that these belong to the public school district … community organizations have to help inform parents how to register and what the obligations of parents are,” she said., adding kindergarten enrollment not only benefits the child but the family as well by helping them understand their community better.
Diane Lauer, assistant superintendent of priority programs and academic support at SVVSD, understands that kindergarten education is a priority to the board of education, the leadership team and the community at large, she said.
“In St. Vrain, we believe in academic excellence by design, and research demonstrates, time and time again, the value of early childhood education,” she said. “It allows students to have a strong foundation that sets them up for future success.”
SVVSD has been celebrating kindergarten for over a decade since it standardized full day kindergarten as an option for local families in 2010, Lauer said. During this time, the district has incorporated more kindergarten classrooms in newly built schools and invested more resources into hiring early childhood educators and paraprofessionals, she said.
In 2019, Gov. Jared Polis institutionalized full day kindergarten in Colorado, a shift for which SVVSD had been well equipped for some time, Lauer said.
“(This change) has allowed our teachers the opportunity to have additional resources in the classroom like paraprofessionals to provide smaller learning group instruction, additional care and support for children, and the access to additional learning,” she said.
To date, SVVSD has 111 kindergarten teachers across the district who work at 36 of its schools, including the LaunchED program. The district also offers Spanish biliteracy instruction for K-3 as an option for bilingual families at five of its schools.
“We have a kinder readiness framework. We start early on, whether the children are with us in preschool or are brand new as kindergarteners, we start off building strong relationships with the child and the family,” she said, adding SVVSD offers a developmentally appropriate curriculum that is sensitive to the unique needs of children at this stage.
When the pandemic hit, SVVSD’s preschool and kindergarten numbers declined significantly in the 2020-2021 school year.
Lauer attributed an increase in kindergarten and preschool registration for the 2021-2022 school to the long standing relationships with community partners and the community as well as high quality schools. She also anticipates enrollment in the upcoming school year being very close to pre pandemic numbers.
For Jill Brown, a kindergarten teacher at Sanborn Elementary School for the past 12 years, this past year has not been like any other and the pandemic has brought with it positive results.
“A really positive thing to come out this year are the relationships (forged) with parents and grandparents for being such a part for the child’s education that communication, that support and that teambuilding between the school and home has been strengthened,” Brown said. “That's something that definitely needs to continue.”
Brown believes that kindergarten is where most of a child’s educational growth occurs, she said. “Not only are they learning a lot of social skills, they are learning skills to help them be independent… It’s such an exciting year, they learn so much and bring so much enthusiasm to learning.”
During COVID, the changes related to technology have been the most dramatic, she said, adding she is continually amazed at how adaptive children are and the ways in which they can quickly take on new challenges.
“Often they teach me a lot of things,” she said. “I am just so proud of the parents and the grandparents that have worked with these kids this year. They’ve been amazing and that made my job that much easier this year.”
On National Kindergarten Day, Lauer will be sending out all kindergarten teachers a personal message expressing gratitude for their dedication to SVVSD’s families and students.
“Our kinder teachers are really hired for their passion and their expertise in this age” she said. “This developmental age is truly unique and students need a lot of opportunities to advance their physical, social, emotional, cognitive as well as academic areas.”