Full-day kindergarten and pre-kindergarten at some Saskatoon schools
- NC Raine | September 21, 2021
A new program in Saskatoon is aiming to give youngsters a better start in school, and life.
This fall, Saskatoon Public Schools (SPS) will offer full-day kindergarten at 14 schools and pre-kindergarten at 13 schools, both running Monday through Thursday.
The school division recognized the need for expanded kindergarten and pre-K programs after learning that, in Saskatoon, 30 percent of kids do not reach a Grade 3 reading level by Grade 3. In some neighbourhoods, that number is as high as 60 per cent of kids.
“We know this is a critical milestone for future success, for graduation, health, social services, justice, confidence, mental health. So we started asking teachers, staff, and the division, ‘What can we do to help change that?’ That's where this early learning (program) came in,” said Zeba Ahmad, SPS Executive Director.
“The earlier we can support kids in literacy, the better it is for those kids moving forward in school.”
Last school year, five schools tested the full-day kindergarten program and were encouraged with the results.
“It's really the eye-test. When you see your students be more engaged, building relationships, building stamina to get through their entire day. They're tired at the end of the day, but after the first few months they're ready to be there every day. So if we can do that earlier, then that's another piece of readiness, so by the time they get to Grade 1, they're ready for a full day and will be able to get to that academic piece a little sooner,” said Derrick Morin, Principal at Sutherland School, where full-day kindergarten was tested last year.
The SPS assesses all kindergarten and pre-kindergarten students early in the year in areas such as language and communication, fine motor and cognitive skills, and awareness of self. Across the province, 56 per cent of children at the beginning of kindergarten are deemed ready to learn. By the end of the full-day tests last year, 76 per cent were ready to learn.
“We did see quite a bit of growth in those five schools, whether it was social, emotional, print awareness, ability to manipulate sounds, precursor to reading… and in a sense of self, a growth in social and emotional wellbeing,” said Trish Reeve, SPS superintendent of education.
Reeve said the children will receive a rich learning experience through play-based learning, including as much outdoor time as possible. The program creates a sense of community, which can have long lasting impacts, she said.
“The full day program really creates that community. Families become part of that community. The children create opportunities that they don't want to miss. We see it in the growth they make over the years,” said Reeve.
The program is also intended to alleviate financial pressures on families who might require some support, Ahmad said. Children will receive meals and snacks throughout the day.
“It's about supporting our youngest learners in very vulnerable situations. There's lots of challenges, most of these (kindergarteners) would be Indigenous, new Canadians, or (from families) in poverty. And most of these students and their parents don't have a voice in our community,” Ahmad said.
“We need to support these families. Saskatoon and Saskatchewan needs to say, ‘education is vital to everybody, and some of these kids need more.’ But if we invest in these kids, they can go anywhere they want to.”
The need is evidenced by parents’ reaction to the program, Morin said.
“They are absolutely ecstatic. When I'm able to tell a parent they have a spot, it's like giving them the best news they've ever heard. It's knowing they will be able to count on them being there every day. It lights the parents up.”