Partnerships are what makes it all work; Proponents of all-day care say kids benefit when teachers and early childhood educators co-operate, Matthew Pearson reports.
The Ottawa Citizen – Mon May 31 2010
Page: B1 / FRONT – Section: City
Byline: Matthew Pearson – Source: The Ottawa Citizen
When Erin Way talks about the importance of clear communication, flexibility and a good sense of humour, you might think she’s rhyming off the secrets to a successful marriage.
Instead, the kindergarten teacher at Riverview Alternative Public School is explaining what it takes to make her classroom partnership with early-childhood educators work.
Last fall, Way’s school in Alta Vista teamed up with Andrew Fleck Child Care Services to provide a full-day kindergarten program. Way teaches the 20 junior and senior kindergarten kids in the morning and hands them to a pair of early childhood educators for the afternoon.
The program saves parents the hassle of picking up their children and transporting them somewhere else in the middle of the day. It provides children with a consistent place to learn and play all day long. And it gives the rest of us a glimpse into the future as the government prepares to roll out full-day kindergarten in schools across the province starting this September.
The decision to introduce full-day kindergarten sets a new course for early-childhood education in Ontario.
Advocates say the new model will benefit children and their families, despite some kinks in the plan.
What’s happening at Riverview looks a bit different from what’s coming to about 50 public and 26 Catholic kindergarten classrooms in Ottawa starting this fall, where one teacher and one ECE — employed by the school boards — are to work in tandem all day long.
At Riverview, the day begins with 21/2 hours of instruction in the morning, led by Way, the kindergarten teacher. At 11:45 a.m., a pair of early childhood educators takes over and children stay until their parents pick them up by 5:30 p.m.
If the transition is seamless, it’s because Way and program co-ordinator Lisa Carry check in with each other regularly. They share strategies and tips, not to mention a cramped office. They point out when a student is having a bad day. They make sure discipline is consistent.
And when they disagree, they talk about it.
Carry says each brings her own strengths to the table.
ECEs specialize in children’s early years and use play-based activities to help kids develop social and self-help skills, while teachers focus on cognition and base their lessons on a curriculum set by the province.
If one of the educators notices something about a child — be it a learning challenge or a particular interest — they can point it out to the other, who can also encourage the child’s exploration or provide some additional attention.
Both say students will benefit.
As they enter Grade 1, kids will have developed far more oral-language skills. They’ll have adjusted to the routine of school and will be accustomed to being in the same class for the whole day. And those with special needs may be identified sooner.
Way recognizes it will be an adjustment, but says once kindergarten teachers adjust to sharing the classroom with another educator, many will like it. “I think teachers are going to be happy to have someone to rely on.”
When Paula Clarke’s son Jack was in kindergarten at Riverview, she had to leave work in the middle of the day, take him to a different program for the afternoon and then drive back to her office.
These days, she drops her daughter Alice off in the morning and picks her up at the end of the day. “It’s given us a weekday that’s totally manageable instead of incredibly stressful,” Clarke said.
She added the government’s full-day program will benefit parents in a way the current patchwork of programs and services never could.
“I’m not crazy about (Ontario Premier Dalton) McGuinty, but I think that this is a really good thing to do,” Clarke said. “I’m going to be paying for it through taxes and I won’t be benefitting from it in five years, but I’m still happy it will be in place. I think every child deserves to have the best start in their educational experience.”
The plan for provincewide full-day kindergarten was set in motion almost a year ago when Charles E. Pascal — who was appointed by McGuinty as a special advisor on early learning — laid it all out in a report.
To Pascal, the problem was clear: “The current fragmented patchwork of early childhood services too often fails the best interests of our children, frustrates families and educators, and wastes resources,” he wrote.
In addition to two years of full-day kindergarten for every child who turns four by Dec. 31, Pascal called for before- and after-school programming as part of the package.
He also recommended programs for families and children — currently spread amongst multiple providers — be brought together under one roof and, down the road, envisioned extending parental leave to up to 400 days on the birth or adoption of a child.
Full-day kindergarten is the first piece of the puzzle.
“I think it’s going to be a bumpy road as we travel down it, as with anything new, but I do believe it’s the best thing for children and families,” says Eleanor Heap.
As the executive director of Ottawa School Day Nursery — which operates 14 child care centres that are based in schools — Heap says the message she hears most often from parents is one of uncertainty: What will this mean for my family? How does it all work? How much does it cost?
Some say the province hasn’t done a stellar job explaining the plan to parents or daycare providers.
Cheryl Heywood, chair of the Licensed Home Child Care Network of Ottawa, says the province’s five-year roll-out plan is ambitious, but fears a piecemeal approach, where some schools get full-day programs earlier than others, could do more harm than good.
“The vision of Charles Pascal’s paper is good and we support it, but not the way it’s going to be rolled in piecemeal because it’s way too confusing for parents and I don’t believe it’s going to be a very stable situation for many of the families,” she said.
Staffing could also be a challenge.
According to Pascal’s report, the province graduates approximately 8,500 elementary teachers every year — more than three times the number of new early-childhood educators entering the system.
Heywood expects school boards and child care centres will both feel the pinch.
“There’s just not enough graduates coming out of college to fill the gaps,” she said.
Heap agreed, but added she doesn’t fear a staff exodus as ECE workers flock to jobs with school boards.
The key for both sides when it comes to recruiting staff will be offering competitive salaries and benefits to woo the strongest candidates, she said.