by Dina Martin
Walk into the kindergarten classes at Williams Ranch School in rural Nevada County and you’ll see a room teeming with activity as teachers keep a mindful eye over their students, ages 5 and 6. And thanks to the addition of a new kindergarten class, there are 19 youngsters in the class instead of the 30 who were there a year ago.
The creation of the new class couldn’t have come at a better time. Parents were so concerned about the overcrowding that some considered enrolling their children in a local charter school. That was before Proposition 30 passed last November. In January, the school district funded an entire new kindergarten class and reduced the two others from 30 students to 20 or fewer.
“Administrators provided immediate relief the same week Prop. 30 passed. I know this is rare, and it took a lot of work on PVTA's part, getting school board members elected, participating in the hiring processes, and having administrators we could work with,” says Peter Minett, Pleasant Valley Teachers Association president. “Through the hard times, we maintained good working relations with our administration.”
While all teachers recognize the benefits of smaller class sizes, kindergarten teachers may be especially aware of the impact, says Minett. “When you have 20 kids in a class, there’s a good chance you can get around to all of them every day. When there are 30 kindergartners in a class, it doesn’t take long for half of them to realize they don’t have a chance of participating. You can lose them at age 5.”
What a difference a few kids make
“It’s been night and day,” says Nancy Crews, who had several children with behavior issues among her 32 students last year. Added to the mix were the students who were 4 when they were enrolled in the transitional kindergarten program.
Sarah Souza, a volunteer parent who served in the class, attests to the change. “It was so chaotic. We couldn’t even go to the library. It took 25 minutes to walk across the school yard. Some days I’d take three or four students outside so she could do some hands-on activities with the others.”
Souza and other parents mobilized and wrote letters to the school board about the situation, so when the district recalculated its budget in January, lowering kindergarten class sizes became the priority.
This year the three kindergarten teachers can get to each student each day. Students get more attention. Behavior management is easier. The teachers are still kept on their toes tending to their full-day kindergarten classes. There are stories to read and analyze, art activities to prepare, math lessons to teach, and life lessons to impart — such as “Cover your mouth when you cough,” “Step over Emily when she’s taking a nap,” and “Line up next to your partner.”
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