Activists express concern after Winnipeg School Division cancels full-day kindergarten pilot program
Socio-economic factors were not considered in division's decision
Manitoba's largest school division will no longer offer full-day kindergarten and that worries local early-childhood activists.
Eleven schools in the Winnipeg School Division — Norquay, John M. King, Strathcona, Wellington, Harrow, Fort Rouge, Earl Grey, Mulvey, Shaughnessy Park, Lord Selkirk and William Whyte — are involved in what has been nearly an eight-year-long pilot program.
That program will end in June 2022, and Sheri-Lynn Skwarchuk, an education professor at the University of Winnipeg, is worried about children who are less fortunate.
"The research that I've been involved with shows that children who are underrepresented in terms of socio-economic backgrounds certainly have more ground to catch up on average compared to say other kids who are in more affluent families," Skwarchuk said on CBC Radio's Up To Speed Wednesday.
The intention of the pilot, which started in 2013 with four schools and later expanded to 11, was to study whether students would benefit from a longer school day. The study used report card data, provincial English and math skills evaluations, school attendance data and parent surveys, among other tools, to evaluate the effectiveness of the program.
The division released a report on its findings of the program Wednesday.
Early in the study, results suggested full-day kindergarten students were benefiting from more time in the classroom. Specifically, they were more prepared for a full day in school and were more engaged in the classroom, said Celia Caetano-Gomes, the division's superintendent of education.
However, before the end of Grade 2, the half-day kindergarten students had achieved the early gains of full-day kindergarten students, and there were no impacts on academic performance in later years and no sustained growth improvements, she said.
Skwarchuk knows challenges arise for kids who start to fall behind academically at an early age.
"In certain regions and in other studies that have been conducted, there's been good evidence that these children show gains into Grade 2 and as far up as into Grade 5," she said.
Ontario has a full-day early learning kindergarten program that provides two full years of full-day schooling before Grade 1, beginning the year a child turns four years old.
Skwarchuk said this innovative approach allows children to work with teachers, as well as early-childhood educators.
"You're kind of getting the best of both worlds. You're getting the teacher who has the extracurricular expertise, but also the early-childhood educator who has all the developmental knowledge of how children grow over these important early years," she said.
The fact that socio-economic factors and data were not considered in making the decision to halt the program bothers Kate Kehler, executive director of the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg.
"To me, that seems like quite a short-term lens on the issue because we know … that [the Winnipeg School Division] encompasses some of the areas that have the deepest poverty. And we know that kids who live in poverty benefit much less from our school system than other kids whose families can provide extra support," Kehler said.
Kehler believes the cancellation of full-day kindergarten at those schools will have a negative impact on more marginalized kids as well as their families through increased child-care costs to make up for the time kids are not able to attend full-day kindergarten classes.
The pilot offered children three hours of learning in the morning, with an hour lunch break, followed by 2½ hours in the afternoon. Half-day kindergarten at all the division's schools, whether in the morning or afternoon, is for 2½ hours.
Skwarchuk said quality of life and wellness for families is just as important as academics.
"I know of parents in other school divisions where there is no all-day kindergarten at all and how many parents' days end at 11:30 [a.m.]. It's stressful. You have to run and pick your child up and find another place for them to go if you're working," she said.
Skwarchuk also believes children love being at school.
"For the most part, once they start school they love going. My children loved kindergarten. If they had the option to, they would have stayed all day," she said.
For families who think they have more family time because their child will be home for part of the day, Skwarchuk thinks that is a great way to learn. But she understands there are other families who don't have that opportunity, and she would rather see their children stay in full-day kindergarten programs.
"We've got the space. We've got the experts who are planning the programs. Now the community is going to have to pick up and find another way to make sure those children have a very good quality environment for those extra hours every day," Skwarchuk said.
With files from Meaghan Ketcheson