Increased time for literacy and math instruction and more time to serve the social-emotional needs of students are two of the driving factors behind Durham Academy’s decision to lengthen the kindergarten formal school day beginning in August 2019. While the kindergarten day will run from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., the pre-kindergarten schedule will remain the same, running from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
“First and foremost, we are expanding the kindergarten school day to serve the academic and social/emotional learning needs of our students,” said Preschool Director Christian Hairston-Randleman. “Over the past few years, our kindergarten teachers have realized the need for more than five hours per day to deliver the math and literacy foundation that students need for first grade and preserve the enrichments — PE, Spanish, music, art, cooking, science, technology, free and outside play and service-learning relationships — that our Preschool families treasure.”
The additional time for literacy and math instruction will better align the Preschool with the workshop model in literacy and the Bridges math curriculum adopted this year in kindergarten through grade four, as well as science and engineering. An additional 7.5 hours of instructional time each week will also create the ability to provide built-in options for extra support for diverse learners.
The wishes and work schedules of current and prospective families also contributed to the decision to lengthen the kindergarten day. In June 2018, prospective, current and past Preschool families were surveyed to better understand their preferred school schedules, their tolerance for tuition increases, and their family structures.
Among the findings: Fewer than one-fifth of the responding families have one full-time working parent and one parent taking primary responsibility for the children and home. More than half of the families who responded represent dual working parent households.
“While parent convenience and market competitiveness are important benefits of this shift, student learning is the driving force for extending the kindergarten day,” Head of School Michael Ulku-Steiner said. “Our kindergarten teachers believe our students need the additional time. Our first-grade teachers heartily endorse this move.
“And the literature suggests that kindergartners benefit from a full school day,” he continued, citing the following:
“Bring on the Full-Day Kindergarten” (from NAIS’ Independent School magazine)
“Full-Day Kindergarten is Great for Kids, So Why Isn’t It Required?” (from The Hechinger Report)
“Full-Day Kindergarten: An Advocacy Guide” (from the National Education Association)
The move to an enhanced kindergarten program grew from research, reflection and discussion over the course of the last several years, including conversation with and input from Preschool and Lower School teachers; research and analysis of Preschool options in the Triangle; the June 2018 parent survey; analysis of potential programming, staffing and tuition models based on survey responses at two administrative team retreats; and review and discussion with the DA Board of Trustees.
Implications for students
By May of 2019, the 2019–2020 daily/weekly schedule for the Preschool will be finalized. With 7.5 additional instructional hours per week, it is anticipated that students will spend more time with literacy, math, and STEM subjects, as well as more time for guided and outdoor play. Current levels for PE, Spanish, music, art, cooking and the Preschool’s interactions with Emerald Pond retirement center are expected to be maintained.
Parents and other caregivers will continue to be welcomed into the building for pickup and drop-off.
Implications for the daily/weekly schedule
Hairston-Randleman and the Preschool faculty — in consultation with the Lower School faculty, Assistant Head of School Kristen Klein, peer schools and outside curriculum and developmental specialists as needed — will be working over the next eight months to decide how best to spend the net gains of 7.5 hours/week.
Just as the first-graders have started the school year with a week of early dismissal and then transitioned to a longer day in previous years, kindergartners will follow this pattern from August 2019 forward, with their school day ending at 1 p.m. during the first week of the 2019–2020 school year. All Lower Schoolers will follow the 8 a.m.–2:45 p.m. schedule from the start of the year.
Implications for Aftercare and Extended Day
Over the next several months, Aftercare and Extended Day leaders and teachers will work to make the policies and pricing for these programs seamless and comprehensible for families, given the extended official school day. Pre-kindergarten families will still have access to Aftercare from 1–2:30 p.m. every day. All Preschool students will have access to enrichments and Extended Day programming from 2:30–5 p.m.
Implications for the Preschool director role
DA’s Preschool directors have long juggled the duties of full-time kindergarten teaching with their administrative responsibilities. With the expansion of the kindergarten school day, Hairston-Randleman will move to a full-time director role. This will allow her to observe in all Preschool classrooms, coach all 19 Preschool faculty members, communicate more actively with the 107 Preschool families and be more publicly present and accessible at drop-off, pick-up, parent coffees, conferences, classroom parties and other Preschool events.
Hairston-Randleman will also spend five to 10 hours per week in a direct teaching role, working with individuals and small groups of students who need remediation and/or enrichment.
Like her counterparts in the Lower, Middle and Upper Schools, Hairston-Randleman will continue to be responsible for the academic curriculum, faculty recruiting/supervision/professional learning, parent communication, and a host of administrative team duties.
“Given the number of new families in the Preschool — our largest entry point for new students — and our desire to provide prospective pre-k and kindergarten families with more information and more of a personal touch as they navigate the admissions process, we are particularly pleased that Christian can play a more active role with prospective and new families,” Ulku-Steiner said.