Photo: Steve Webb with April Leonard's kindergarten classroom.

You may not learn everything you need to know in kindergarten, but you certainly do learn a lot. That was the case for me a few weeks ago, when I visited Chinook Elementary.

Every year I spend a few days on the job with different staff members, doing the same work they do, to understand their challenges and their contributions on behalf of our students and families. At Chinook, I taught kindergarten for a morning with April Leonard.

My new kindergarten friends and I spent the morning working on numeracy, geometric sense, phonemes, and blended sounds. Later, we practiced ways to calm down when we’re frustrated.

You can think back to when you were in kindergarten, but that memory is definitely different than being in a teaching role with kindergarten and just seeing how much it changes and how much there is that goes into each moment of every day.

What April says is true. I taught high school social studies and English before becoming an administrator. As a high school teacher, you can expect a degree of self-sufficiency and self-direction from your students. That’s not always so in kindergarten. Planning for every minute becomes very important.

That day I saw firsthand how VPS’ kindergarten teachers are doing a great job preparing their students for first grade and beyond. It’s true that we’ve elevated the standards that students are expected to meet by the end of the year. But we haven’t done so at the expense of joyful, interactive learning experiences. And thanks to free full-day kindergarten in all 21 elementary schools this year, our students have more time for both.

It appears that the extra time is paying off. For example, the number of kindergarten students at benchmark in math has risen 2 percentage points since May 2013. At the same time, the number of kids in the intensive range has been cut in half.

The benefits of full-day kindergarten aren’t all tied to assessment, however. Parents say it helps their students develop deeper relationships with their peers and school. Teachers have pointed out that it provides more opportunities for their students to prepare for the rigors of Common Core. English language learners gain time to practice their communication. Our students also have more time to build the critical executive function and self-regulation skills that are essential for academic and professional success.

We made the commitment to free full-day kindergarten because it’s an issue of equity—and now all our kindergarteners have equal opportunity to learn and grow.

Take care,


Image: Steve signature