Merrimack still eyeing full-day K

'Kindergarten task force’ offers its third presentation at BOE meeting.

MERRIMACK – Merrimack School District administrators, teachers and parents (known collectively as the kindergarten task force) gathered at Merrimack High School for the Board of Education meeting Tuesday night and gave their third presentation on the prospect of full-day kindergarten for the district.

Full-day kindergarten, the presentation stressed, would be beneficial for the students and the community.

Many of the programs currently used in half-day kindergarten, have had to be abbreviated to fit into the half-day curriculum.

Additionally, an entire day, the presentation highlighted, would allow for students to have physical education, art, music and computer classes, which their current schedule does not allow for.

There would be a balance, the taskforce argued, between direct instruction and student-led activities, which would help to boost their emotional and social intelligence as well as academic performance.

Much of the research on the benefits of full-day kindergarten has issues, in that the studies did not evaluate the quality of the program, nor did it follow students (usually) past the fifth grade, according to Kristine Thibault, kindergarten teacher at Reeds Ferry Elementary School.

Those that did take those factors into consideration, however, showed that in immediate outcomes, students were less likely to be overweight and spent more time

outside.

Those studies that followed students into adulthood, found that those who had been in full-day kindergarten had more family stability, earned more money and were less involved in crime, Thibault said.

Brittany Gagnon, a parent, said her son had a hard time when he was in half-day kindergarten, because he had so many transitions throughout the day: daycare, kindergarten and then after-school care.

Once he got to first grade, she said she and her husband noticed an “immediate positive change” due, they suspected, to spending the whole day in the same environment. She wants her younger daughter, she said, to be able to thrive in full-day kindergarten so she does not

have to go through those transitions.

Another parent, Ingrid French, said her daughter would be starting kindergarten next year, and lauded the fact that smaller issues such as speech and language and social delays are easier to spot in kindergarten than they are in daycare.

This program would prepare the students for first grade in a way that daycare does not, French said.

She added that not offering full-day kindergarten puts Merrimack children at a distinct disadvantage compared to neighboring communities that do.

Brian Stisser, a parent in the community, said he thought implementing the program would have an economic impact on Merrimack as well as the education and emotional growth for children.

New Hampshire, he said, has a shrinking workforce and a rapidly aging

population.

“We need a workforce that is able to provide skilled workers (for) employers to be able to locate here,” and as a young millennial parent himself, he said he and his wife both agreed that if given the chance for a redo, they would not have purchased a home in a town without full-day kindergarten. Other young professionals,

he said, tend to feel the same way.

In answering some questions from the last presentation, the task force said there would likely be no additional costs for transportation, because the routes already are established.

It would, if anything, eliminate the need for some of the vans in the middle of the day, one member said.

The head of food services also was approached about the issue, and he told the task force that accommodating another grade level would not be too much of a strain, and that it could even help boost revenue, with more children to buy lunch.

“Our plea to Merrimack is to look at making our education system whole, preschool through 12th grade,” Kimberly Yarlott, the Reeds Ferry principal said.

There still is work to be done, board chair Shannon Barnes said, but at the next meeting Feb. 5, they will discuss adding full-day kindergarten as a warrant article, so taxpayers can weigh in, and then see about voting as a board.

“This is a very important decision for the community,” she said.

Hannah LaClaire can be reached at 594-1243 or hlaclaire@nashuatelegraph.com.