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Assessing programs in Onion Lake

What is this research about?


In the last few years, a number of school divisions in Saskatchewan have began to offer full-time kindergarten programs, in which students attend school all day, every day, instead of half-days or every other day, as has been the traditional model for kindergarten in Saskatchewan. In 2006, Saskatchewan Learning worked with researchers at the University of Saskatchewan to evaluate the early impact that full-time kindergarten has had in three school divisions: Greater Saskatoon Catholic, Living Sky and Onion Lake. In Onion Lake, our evaluation focused on the differences between classes taught in English and classes taught in Cree, as all the kindergarten classes were full-time. The objectives of this research were to assess childrens socio-emotional, physical, intellectual and spiritual development; assess the current structure of full-time kindergarten programs, and identify its strengths and weaknesses as perceived by parents and teachers; and provide feedback to Saskatchewan Learning and the three school divisions to inform their decision-making.

and art materials than there were math-oriented materials in both kinds of classrooms. In both kinds of classes, several teachers remarked that they lacked classroom materials. We also found that both kinds of classrooms needed more materials and space for dramatic play, especially reflecting the diverse cultural identity of students. Attendance rates for students in Onion Lake ranged from 70% to 85%, which was lower than the other school divisions Saskatoon Catholic ranged from 85%-95%, and Living Sky from 80%-90%. Attendance was lowest in late fall and mid-spring. Male students in the Cree immersion program had slightly higher attendance rates than female students. Younger students (those born later in the year) showed better attendance than older students.

What are English and Cree Immersion classes like?


Both English and Cree immersion kindergarten classes were suitable environments for learning. There was virtually no difference between how the classrooms were organized for English or Cree immersion. However, there were far more reading

How we conducted this research We used a case-control design and numerous methods for collecting data. We compared students in full-time kindergarten programs to those in part-time kindergarten programs. We used standard tests to determine students social skills, early reading ability, and physical health and well-being. We looked at attendance records kept by the school divisions. We interviewed teachers and parents, both one-on-one and in small groups. We examined classrooms, using a test developed to compare them, and collected information on teachers experiences and qualifications. In Onion Lake School Division, all of the kindergarten classes were full-time, so we compared Cree immersion with English immersion students instead. There were 18 students in Cree Immersion (5 boys and 13 girls), and 67 students in English immersion (31 boys and 36 girls). All of the students were of Aboriginal ancestry.

Parents told us that the teacher, and how she interacted with her students, was more important to their childs success in kindergarten than the kind of kindergarten program offered or length of the school day. In both programs, parents were supportive and appreciative of teachers. As one parent said: One of the best things is the teacher. Shes just amazing with the kids. I dont know anybody else that could keep the attention of twenty-five five year oldsthey are just glued to her and shes amazing with them.

Who benefits from full-time kindergarten?


Teachers that we interviewed felt that full-time kindergarten programs were most beneficial for students who were lagging behind their peers due to issues such as poorer language skills, or who had difficulty getting along with other children. As one teacher said: I had two really strong students come in at the beginning, and theyre still strong. But there are other kids whove almost come up to their level. And Im sure that they wouldnt be there if we didnt have them all day. Other researchers have found that children from poor families, those with single parents, those who are members of minority groups or who have a language other than English as a first language have benefited most from fulltime kindergarten programs.

Developing intellectual, physical, spiritual and social skills


The test we used to measure early literacy was not designed for use in Cree Immersion classrooms. In Onion Lake, students in the English immersion kindergarten scored higher on their knowledge of the English alphabet and its uses than did those students in the Cree class, which is to be expected as the focus in the Cree classroom is not on the English language. However, there were fewer differences between the students when we looked at word meanings. We are lacking culturally appropriate tools to assess early literacy skills in predominantly non-English speaking classes. Students in the Cree immersion program in Onion Lake were observed to have more problem behaviours than those in the English program. Students who were older (born earlier in the year), and had no identified special problems had higher scores in physical health and well-being. There were no differences between English and Cree students in terms of their performance in physical health and wellbeing. In Onion Lake, parents and teachers felt that the spiritual teachings in school were helping children learn mutual respect and tolerance, and develop a sense of cultural and personal identity. Some parents felt that it was important that their children learn these things in class, not just as an outing or only on a special occasion. One parent shared her feelings regarding the teachings of Cree culture in class, saying: They should know how to behave at a feast, they should know how to behave at a sweat, they should know how to behave around elders, they should know how to behave when theres sweetgrass involved, because theres accepted behaviour, and unaccepted behaviour that the elders expect of the kids.

Advantages and disadvantages of fulltime kindergarten, shared by parents and teachers


Advantages: better fit with parents schedules, especially for working parents eliminating the need for after-school care for kindergarten children, which can be difficult to find, and is especially difficult for low-income families teachers have more time, so are able to get more done in the day teachers have more time to get to know the students and their parents better, and are better able to spend more time with individual students and identify students with special needs children have more time to develop their social skills and learn daily routines the program provides children with the consistency they need to learn to control problem behaviours Disadvantages: children who have rich home learning environments may find a part-time program is better suited to them full-time programs dont allow enough time for downtime for students, which is a critical part of development for some children some parents felt that a full time program was too much, too soon some children may have difficulty adjusting to full-day school (although this varies greatly from one child to the next).

2007. Download the full reports at: www.kidskan.ca/FTK (Full Time Kindergarten in Saskatchewan, Part One and Part Two) Research Team: Nazeem Muhajarine, Trina Evitts, Maureen Horn, Jody Glacken, Debbie Pushor, University of Saskatchewan. Fact sheet produced by Fleur Macqueen Smith. For more information, contact nazeem.muhajarine@usask.ca