Early learning earns positive report

By Barbara Simpson, Sarnia Observer

The province's full-day early learning program is still receiving rave reviews locally halfway through its inaugural school year.

"It's very clear that parents are overwhelmingly pleased with the program itself," said Wayne Baker, Grand Erie superintendent of Norfolk elementary schools. "The teachers of these students feel the same way."

This year, Langton Public School and Elgin Avenue Public School were the only Norfolk schools to introduce full-day learning through the Grand Erie District School Board. Langton's Sacred Heart was the sole Catholic Norfolk school to implement the program.

The province's full-day learning plan initially drew some concern when it was unveiled in October 2009. Four-and five-year- olds might not be ready for a full day of school every day, suggested some parents and educators across the province. On-site before and after school care also raised concern with private daycare operators.

Some adjustments to benefit students were temporarily introduced to the daytime routine, Baker acknowledged.

"The teachers on occasion at the beginning brought in activities that were a little more sedated," Baker said, adding that students have now acclimatized to the new daily routine.

Sacred Heart principal Zoltan Rapai also found this adjustment at his school. Some of the 36 kindergarten students started off slowly with half-day attendance.

"By the end of the first week, there was no question -- the children were ready for it," he said.

Rapai is seeing numerous benefits to the program at his school. Students are already developing the daily routine required for the primary grades. They are also fostering an earlier love of learning, while difficulties such as speech and behavioural issues can be helped sooner.

"Being here every day gives them an enhanced sense of self-confidence," Rapai said.

The true test of success has been the outside interest in the program, Baker said. Several out-of-area families have inquired about openings in full-day classes at these schools.

"To me, that speaks volumes," he said.

The province plans to roll out full-day learning to all schools over the next five years. Several factors have influenced which schools have been chosen to offer full-day learning so far. Schools considered compensatory and which had the physical room were given priority.

Four more Grand Erie schools will offer the program next year.