Smaller class sizes are vital

By Nancy Sells and Sheila Bean

As longtime kindergarten teachers, we are writing in support of the current parent effort to reduce class size in primary grades.

Most of us still remember the kindergarten experience of our former days when play and socialization were the primary focus. Among other expectations, today’s kindergartners are expected to exit the program able to read emergent text, write several sentences on a single topic, recognize numbers to 30 and above, record and interpret simple graphs, and add and subtract number equations.

As former first-grade teachers, we both clearly recognize that grade-level expectations have been elevated by at least a grade level over the past 10 years, resulting in extremely high expectations of our 5- and 6-year-olds today (and consequently, for all the grades that follow).

That only addresses the academic standards/expectations. Perhaps even more important are the social/emotional issues that are equally dealt with each kindergarten day. As teachers, we are constantly called upon to help settle disputes, give guidance on how to deal with problems, and give the reassuring hugs that tell our children that we care deeply and are there for them, no matter what.

Then there is the safety issue: One adult responsible for the safety of 31 small children is actually unfathomable. One skinned knee (the inevitable, when you are 5!) can result in 30 additional children unsupervised for even moments, when additional issues may and do arise.

We are seeing more and more children enter kindergarten without basic skills that are required for school success. Transitional kindergarten is a welcome addition in addressing some of these issues, but unfortunately, does not reach all who need it. We differentiate our curriculum constantly in the effort to meet the broad range of needs we encounter, but with our large class sizes, we spend more time on management and assessment, taking precious time away from direct instruction.

The children with many needs who require large amounts of individual attention suffer the most from large class size and, despite all our efforts, we constantly worry about the achievement gap widening rather than closing in years to come.

Please join us in our effort to make class size reduction in the primary grades a high priority. Write letters, sign parent petitions and speak out at future school board meetings to let our district administrators and school board members know that class size reduction must be addressed for the safety and success of our youngest learners.

— Nancy Sells and Sheila Bean are kindergarten teachers at Patwin Elementary School.

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