Letters to the Editor

Parent: Full Day Kindergarten is All About the Children

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To the Editor:
 
My name is Allison Silvestro, and I am a full-time working mother of a 4-month-old and a 4-year-old. I will pay approximately $30k in private tuition costs to send them both to private full-day kindergarten in absence of public full-day kindergarten. I am willing to pay this amount because a full-day program is best for my children and our family is lucky enough to be able to afford it. Our family moved to Bridgewater 1.5 years ago, and one of the main factors was the highly rated school system. I wonder if another full-time working mother will say the same thing in 10 years.
For those residents who haven't had a child go through the school system in the past few years, they may think that a half-day is good enough. What they may not realize is that the curriculum has drastically changed. Today's kindergarten curriculum is more like what used to be the first grade curriculum years ago. For example, students need to come out of kindergarten being able to read. Can you imagine having only 1.5 hours of instructional time and still having to learn what you were taught in first grade? Furthermore, the NJ Department of Education guidelines clearly recommend full-day kindergarten. They even have a five-page policy brief from as far back as 2005 detailing all the merits of a full day for kindergarten (you can read it here - http://www.state.nj.us/education/ece/k/FullDayK.pdf). The state's mandated curriculum is based on a full-day of kindergarten - which begs the question, how are our students getting everything they need with only a half-day and one third the instructional time that a full-day program would provide? 
 
Looking to retire and/or downsize in the next 10 years? Or take out a home equity loan? Before housing prices can stabilize in today's market, let alone increase, our school district needs to remain competitive. Our elementary schools, however, cannot remain competitive with other districts while providing only 1.5 hours of instructional time in kindergarten. Prospective buyers with young children will flock to Branchburg, Hillsborough or any one of a number of other towns when their elementary schools start outscoring ours, thanks to the strong foundation created by a full-day of kindergarten instruction. The majority of young families moving into our neighborhoods have two working parents, making full-day kindergarten a major selling point since it will save them anywhere from $13-15K in costs for a year of private kindergarten. Yes, you read that right - that's how much a year of full time daycare or kindergarten costs these days in this area!
 
I'm sure everyone starts thinking about tax hikes when they think about additional school time. However, the state subsidizes a portion of the district's kindergarten programs and the subsidy is doubled if the program is full-day. That means that our state tax money is going to subsidize other districts that have implemented full-day kindergarten. I don't know about you, but I want my fair share of state money to end up in our district.

 
And let's not forget about what this is all about - our children. Best case scenario, multiple studies have shown that students are struggling in first grade when they only had a half-day of kindergarten the year before. Even if they are catching up by the end of first grade, their confidence and attitude toward school will likely endure for the duration of their educational career, due at least in part to the struggles they felt early on. Most of those who can afford to do so are paying for private full-day kindergarten, both out of necessity and in an attempt to better meet their children's educational needs, but what about those who don't have the money? Why should we allow our educational system to fail them? Do we really want an income gap to hinder these children at such an early age?
 
In 2014, the Bridgewater-Raritan Regional Board of Education set a goal to implement full day kindergarten in two to three years - meaning that by either the 2016-2017 or 2017-2018 school year at the latest.  In 2015, the board of education now has a new goal - to implement full day kindergarten by the 2018-2019 school year. What happened in this last year? Apparently, not much. Everyone rested on their laurels and an entire year slipped by where no progress was made on the facilities improvements required. This year, they put the construction of some additional bathrooms in the budget - but none of the rest of the necessary construction projects.  During a board meeting in April 2014, it was stated that if the board had committed then to implementing full-day kindergarten, they could have been ready by 2017. So, it's clear that they didn't commit in 2014.  What's done is done. Let's commit now. Otherwise 2018 will turn into 2019, then 2020 and so on, and the damage will be done to our district, our real estate prices, and our children's education.
 
Sincerely,

Allison Silvestro
 
Bridgewater

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