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Private schools offer kindergarten choice

If Highroad Academy didn’t offer part-time kindergarten next year, Emy Rodgers would likely be keeping her daughter home another year.

Rodgers’ daughter Preslie will still be four when she starts kindergarten in September as her birthday isn’t until December.

“I’d probably hold her back so she didn’t struggle,” said Rodgers, who has another daughter already in kindergarten this year.

“Right now [Preslie’s] going to preschool five hours a week and she’s tired from that. For me to expect her to go [35] hours a week to school, I think that’s crazy.”

While public schools will be rolling out full-day kindergarten for all five-year-olds in September, independent schools have been given a reprieve.

Earlier this year, independent schools were notified by the B.C. Education Ministry that they could continue providing part-time kindergarten (60 per cent) as well as full-time as a way of giving parents more choice.

Alynne Shinness, development coordinator at Highroad Academy, believes the ministry’s change of mind was the result of an overwhelming outcry from private school parents.

“Initially [the ministry] was saying if parents chose part-time kindergarten, it would not be funded and they’d have to pay for it themselves,” said Shinness.

“But there were a lot of families who did not want full-time kindergarten.”

In 2009-10, the education ministry provided $250 million to independent schools in B.C., of which $6.1 million went towards the 1,823 students attending the 10 such schools in Chilliwack.

All independent schools in Chilliwack receive 50 per cent of the $6,740 per pupil funding that’s provided to public schools. (Ministry funding for independent schools is divided into four categories, depending on curriculum and teacher certification.)

Schools will receive a quarter of the per pupil funding for students enrolled in part-time kindergarten.

In an email statement to The Progress, Education Minister Margaret MacDiarmid noted that while the government is still committed to the implementation of full-day kindergarten for all five-year-olds, it recognizes that not all parents feel their children are ready for a full day of kindergarten.

“In response to parents and the Federation of Independent Schools (FISA) we are providing funding for both half- and full-day kindergarten at independent schools,” said MacDiarmid.

“We recognize that independent schools are distinct from the public school system and offer a different choice.”

Some parents expressed concerns their children were too young, too small, and not developed enough to be put into a full-time classroom setting.

“There’s still huge development differences between children of that age,” said Shinness. “They’re still acquiring languages, they don’t know their left hand from their right, they’re learning to run, grasp a pencil, those kinds of things.”

Some parents were also concerned their children wouldn’t be socialized enough in the classroom as they are at home with their parents, younger siblings, and various play dates.

Sylvia Lengkeek, a mother of four, whose youngest son will be going into kindergarten next year, wanted more time with her “baby.”

“He’s just a little guy, I think he may be tired quicker, and I think he would be quite exhausted going five days in a row,” said Lengkeek, whose son will be going to Highroad Academy in September for three full days a week instead of five.

“I wanted to give him an extra year of just playing and enjoying being little for a little bit longer.”

The Ministry of Education argues full-day kindergarten provides a range of benefits to young learners, including improved reading and numeracy, smoother transitions to Grade 1 and increased post-secondary graduation rates.

Still, Rodgers isn’t convinced it’s the best option.

“I’ve spoken to other moms with children in Grade 1 and their kids are still having a hard time adjusting,” said Rodgers.

“I can’t understand why a parent would want to do full-time over part-time. Kindergarten to me is to slowly prepare children for school, not just throw them in. Full-time kindergarten is such a big day and it’s exhausting.

“I’m not diminishing kindergarten, my daughter who’s in it now, she does learn,” said Rodgers. “But they are still having nap time and that alone shows me that full-day is too much for them.”

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