As Che’ Gilliland buzzed around her classroom, sorting through boxes and decorating walls, a smile rarely left her face.
Setting up a classroom just before the start of a school year never felt so good for Gilliland, a kindergarten teacher at Olympic View Elementary School.
“I’m so excited,” Gilliland said. “I've just been waiting and waiting and waiting.”
The school year that begins Thursday, Sept. 5, in the Oak Harbor School District will be unlike any other for four kindergarten teachers at Olympic View.
Their school qualified for new state funding to become the first elementary school on Whidbey Island to offer full-day kindergarten without a fee or special criteria.
Olympic View will offer four classes of full-day kindergarten taught by four teachers in four different classrooms.
That’s a departure from past years when there were alternating full days or half-days and the pace was frantic and there never seemed to be enough time to fit in all the lessons.
“We always felt like we were rushing through everything,” said Susan Stockfeld, a kindergarten teacher at Olympic View since 2000. “We were always trying to teach a full-time curriculum in a half-day program, so this will be nice.”
The state has earmarked 2018 as the target date for all elementary schools statewide to be offering free, full-day kindergarten.
Olympic View was among the schools that qualified this year based on the percentage of students at the school eligible for the federal free or reduced price lunch program.
It’s not the only school in the district where kids attend all-day kindergarten. Oak Harbor Elementary offers a fee-based program that costs $260 a month.
Also, the school district offers a free full-day kindergarten through the federal Title 1 program for qualifying students based on academic need. There also is a free program for qualifying kindergarteners in the special education program.
But the program at Olympic View is open to all incoming kindergarteners in its attendance area.
“I’m just thrilled,” Olympic View principal Laura Aesoph said. “We have lots of kids whose parents both work or there is a single parent or one parent is in the Navy. These are really busy families. They want their kids to have the same advantages of maybe other families that are maybe not so economically impacted. This sort of evens out the playing field.”
Aesoph, who began teaching in 1978, pointed to research that shows the benefits later in life from getting a head start academically, socially and emotionally that a full day of kindergarten can help provide.
She said that half-day kindergarten took away some of that important social and emotional development time.
“In the old days, kindergarten included pretty important components that helped kids develop socially and emotionally,” Aesoph said. “They had structured play time and a lot of time to interact with the teacher and time to do imaginative things, painting or dressup or playing in the kitchen. They learned a lot of social skills doing those things.
“In the last 15 years, the bar has really been raised for students to learn more earlier, but in half-day programs, something had to go.”
Teachers love the idea of restoring more time for social and emotional development to complement the academics at a more relaxed pace.
“The kids really need that extra time,” said Kathy Ridle, literacy coach for the Oak Harbor schools and former kindergarten teacher. “Not only do they get the social and directed play kind of opportunities, they also have time for the academic goals that are expected.”
Oak Harbor schools superintendent Lance Gibbon said he’s looking forward to the day when all Oak Harbor schools offer full-day kindergarten.
A recent Washington Supreme Court decision led to the recent state funding and to the 2018 deadline for all schools.
As part of the new program at Olympic View, teachers will spend conference time in individual family sessions to build a rapport with kindergarteners and their parents.
Kids will be shown how to hold a pencil and will get a chance to draw a picture, among other introductory lessons.
The four kindergarten classrooms are located next to each other in one pod. Teachers joining Gilliland and Stockfeld at Olympic View are Jeff Hume and Krista Hanson-Walker.
Hume, Stockfeld’s husband, is returning to Olympic View after spending the past three years at Crescent Harbor. The last time he was at Olympic View he shared a classroom during a time when there were morning and afternoon kindergarten sessions.
Hume was busy decorating his own classroom last week and quick to joke.
“Now I get my own classroom,” he said with a grin. “I’m moving up in the world.”