Extending kindergarten hours draws controversy

ORANGE — The school district is asking residents’ opinions once more on an idea to expand the school day for kindergartners.

Last month, a 15-question survey was posted online about longer kindergarten and prekindergarten sessions, schools Superintendent Lynn K. McMullin said Thursday afternoon.

Looking at the 194 responses, McMullin said some respondees seemed confused.

“Some people think that the board should pay for it. It can’t be both optional and board supported. Those are two incongruous ideas,” she said.

The Board of Education may hear the proposal this month or in February.

The idea was part of a strategic planning committee three-year goal, which recommended exploring a full-day kindergarten.

“I’m bringing a proposal to the board. I’m trying to figure out for the board an option as to what makes the most sense for the community,” she said.

The increased hours would be either optional and tuition-based, or mandatory and board-supported.

The second survey went up Jan. 1 and will be open for a while. Already 95 responses were recorded.

More than 100 kindergartners attend free classes 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Mary L. Tracy School.

At issue is who pays for the proposed additional 80 minutes to 2:50 p.m. in the fall.

“We can’t go to 3 p.m. because of busing issues at Mary L. Tracy School,” she said.

The important thing is the children are meeting all the benchmarks. Extra time would give them more science, social studies and technology.

“We’re not doing this because our math and reading scores are low, because they’re not,” McMullin said.

Children already have library, art and music, and physical education and health.

“None of that would be cut, of course,” McMullin said.

“There’s some really cool things we could do with the kids,” McMullin said.

“We had a really fabulous program last year where the kids hatched chicks. We could do a lot more with science, social studies and technology,” McMullin said.

The answer on the choice of an extended day is not obvious, McMullin said.

Some children start at age 4, but turn 5 by year’s end. Some parents think the children are in school too long already.

“Some parents say at 1:30 their child is ready to go home and take a nap,” McMullin said.

Resident Bonnie Pelaccia, whose four grown children attended half-day sessions at town public school and whose grandson is a Tracy kindergartner, is against the longer day.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Pelaccia said Thursday.

The children sit one hour for math and one hour for reading. It was formerly 20 minutes for each subject, she said.

“I don’t want to be negative, Orange has a good school system.”

Asked if too much pressure is being put on kids, Pelaccia said, “I don’t think so. I know so.”

“Has anybody asked the children?”

Pelaccia asked her own grandson, who told her “‘it’s not very good.”’

“‘I sit at the desk a lot. You have to sit and do work for a long time, and we don’t get outside to play,’” she reported him saying.

He said he likes learning new things, and he does like his teacher, Pelaccia said.

On the other hand, “I do a lot of cutting and pasting, cutting and pasting, and cutting and pasting,’” he told Pelaccia.

Pelaccia said a kindergartner’s day in school should be short and “run in a play-oriented way.”

“We’re just pushing these kids far too far with the academics. Just let them play. You learn a lot,” she said.

As for cost, unless the board expands the day for every child, the extra time would be optional, with a proposed fee of about $8 a day.

Children who qualify for free or reduced lunch would attend for free.