It’s a Monday morning in February. The day begins with boots, coats, snow pants, hats, mitts, reading bags, and most importantly friends. The weather the week before began with a snowstorm, ended with a bitter cold, and combined with the usual winter sniffles meant that many children had been away. What could have been complete chaos was alive with a happy buzz, students helping each other, sharing stories or looking at books together. Their teachers, Sonia Callea (teacher) and Ivett Orellana (early childhood educator), were organizing the room and guiding the children towards the carpet so the day could begin. I could already tell that the hour I would spend in this class would be special.
This is kindergarten. Team 102 at Joyce Public School in Toronto, which is everything that is awesome about full-day learning: a teacher and an early childhood educator (ECE) working in partnership to support their learners. With all of the talk over the past little while about the value of the FDK program in Ontario, I decided to spend some time with this team.
“They have time to delve into inquiries, they have time to have two big blocks of activity time. We can work with the group one-on-one, and they’re also inquiring and learning on their own,” Sonia suggests when speaking about why having the children there for the entire day is important.
Ivett adds, “there is deeper learning, deeper thinking, more child-based. It’s more authentic.” Watching these two with the children in their class reflects this philosophy, from the learning to the way evaluation takes place. “We know our kids so well that we know what they are capable of,” Sonia says.
The team’s understanding and commitment to early learning shines through, their chemistry speaks to this. The children are the beneficiaries, watching how the 4 and 5 year-olds love being at school, their teachers have put in the time to get to know each of them. Everything is a celebration, every milestone, whether it’s the student who remembered to bring their book back, or the moment during the morning lesson when Sonia exclaimed “do you know what that means? You guys can read the whole poem!” Many of us may feel exhausted just at the thought of being responsible for 27 little ones but these two seem to be energized, it’s enchanting to watch.
My youngest son attended full-day for Senior Kindergarten, the ease of his transition to grade 1 compared with his older brother is an example of the program’s success. He loved being at school all-day, and I found that not only was he more prepared academically, but he was much more resilient. A lot can be learned from FDK, a lot about the way that children learn could be applied to higher grades. Sonia echoes my opinion “kindergarten should be stretching to grades 1-3.” When we talk about equity in education, understanding where children are at is so important, this team understands that and could teach many of their peers this principle.
I asked some Toronto-area parents what their impressions of FDK are and if their children have benefited from the program. Nazerah Shaikh who opted to keep her son home and not enroll him until Senior Kindergarten suggested that the relationship between the teacher and student is important “you don’t get to do that in 2 hours. Students also get to be a part of school activities, not just from the sidelines.” Mandy Moore who has a son currently in junior kindergarten says “my JK son says the day is long for him (school gets in the way of his playtime, as he puts it), but I think it’s good for him, and it’s definitely been good for me and my career.”
No matter what happens with full-day kindergarten in the future one thing is for sure, Team 102 is special. I asked both teachers why they chose FDK and why they continue to teach. Ivett said, “for me it’s an honour and an opportunity, we give all that information, they give us the information and we keep on moving forward.” Sonia concludes, “I love to see the spark and they still have the passion. They’re not jaded yet, they’re inspiring and teach me so much.”