Supporting the youngest learners

Teachers played crucial role in securing a full-day kindergarten program in Camas

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Kindergarten teacher Cathy Sawyer was part of volunteer group which led the charge to add a full-day program for all kindergarten students in the Camas School District. The School Board approved the request this spring.

When the Camas School Board chose to move forward with full-day kindergarten, some audience members found it hard to contain their joy.

Hollering and clapping was heard amidst the members of the committee, which had spent several months researching the need for such a program.

“We were thrilled and excited when the board approved moving forward with full-day kindergarten,” said teacher Diane Loghry, who chaired the committee. “It was so wonderful to know our work was respected and valued and the community of Camas believes in supporting our youngest learners.”

The state of Washington will require all school districts to have a full day program by the fall of 2017, but many Camas educators have long desired the program. They first tried to have it approved five years ago, but it was postponed due to the budget crisis across the state.

When the district decided to form a study team earlier this year to revisit the issue, kindergarten teacher Cathy Sawyer was quick to volunteer.

“A lot of us are in agreement that we need more time to teach the Common Core standards than what a half-day program allows,” she said. “With a full-day program, we can provide appropriate pacing and still have breaks for movement and play. I am really excited about building stronger relationships and adding more social time to our day.”

Sawyer has taught kindergarten for 20 years, with the last 15 at Dorothy Fox Elementary in Camas.

“Things have changed a lot in the past few years with the state requirements for learning,” she said. “Our study team was really focused on making sure we do this in a way that is best for kids.”

The committee spent approximately five months defining its principles of early learning, planning professional development needs for kindergarten teachers, and projecting implementation needs and costs.

Julie Swan, Prune Hill Elementary School principal, also served on the committee. She has worked in education for 24 years as a classroom teacher and principal.

“The uniqueness of our full day program is twofold: Establishing intentional play into the day as developmentally appropriate and folding the literacy intervention of our current LEAP program into full day kindergarten.”

LEAP is a supplemental full-day program, directed at children who have the highest needs. The program was first offered several years ago but was cut due to budget restrictions, then brought back later.

“We had to make a decision whether to expand LEAP this year, or have a full-day program for all kindergarten students,” Sawyer said. “It seemed logical to move forward with it, since the state will be requiring that soon. We are just getting a head start. This will help the kids be more socially ready, self-directed, have better stamina and are given an opportunity to engage in activities for a longer period of time. It is not the direction every school district would take, but we are looking for balance.”

Loghry, who has worked in the education field for 27 years, noted that the young students’ sense of wonder and discovery is what keeps her here.

“I love the enthusiasm and excitement that each child brings into the classroom,” she said. “Increasing the time students are in attendance in school allows for greater opportunity to support the unique needs of young learners while at the same time promoting intellectually stimulating and challenging educational experiences. Preparing our students to meet the challenges of a global community and becoming college and career ready requires an investment in their learning. Full day Kindergarten is that investment.” Swan noted that the research behind early childhood education supports literacy development and number sense.

“The sooner we introduce literacy and number sense with an emphasis on intentional play, our chances of having strong, on-grade level readers, writers and thinkers increases,” she said. “Our parent community has been supportive of full day kindergarten for some time now, with many attending full-day preschools and kindergarten before entering the Camas School District. Our school board, knowing that we do not receive any state funds for FDK, made the investment in our youngest learners as they are big proponents of early childhood education.”

Sawyer refers to early childhood education as “my biggest passion,” and is excited for what the coming school year will bring.

“I am looking forward to getting to know each and every student better,” she said. “As a half day kindergarten teacher, there is not as much time as you would like. I love working with the kids and want more time with them.”