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Construction setbacks hit full-day kindergartens in Ontario Add to ...

Full-day kindergarten classrooms in Ontario will still be under construction in the fall, forcing children to learn on gym stages, in computer labs and school libraries and complicating the last year in the rollout of the Liberal’s government ambitious program.

The government has staked its reputation on the success of the program since the program’s inception in 2009, under former Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty. On top of millions in operating dollars, the program has directed more than $1.45-billion in capital costs to expand and retrofit schools.

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But some school boards say they cannot guarantee classrooms will be ready under the strict timeline set out by the province. Some schools are already dealing with crowding. The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario has said that more than 30 students are in some classes, making the play-based learning program difficult to implement and worrying parents who argue the crowding interferes with learning. The government requires school boards to have a board-wide average class size of 26 full-day kindergartners.

The full-day kindergarten program has been introduced in phases over five years. In the first year of the program, the government directed school boards to introduce full-day kindergarten to schools where there was no need for renovations. School boards left their biggest projects for the last two years, so they would have more time to plan and design.

“We’re the largest school board in Canada. In order for us to implement FDK in somewhere around 560 schools over a five-year time frame is hugely complex and challenging,” said Angelos Bacopoulos, executive officer of facility services at the Toronto District School Board. “Could we have used a little bit more time? Absolutely.”

About 100 more schools at the TDSB have to be renovated for full-day classrooms by this fall. At the Peel District School Board, where enrolment is growing, 50 more schools will have to implement full-day kindergarten in the next academic year. Some children may be housed in other spaces, including on gym stages, until their classrooms are ready later in the year, said Jeff deFreitas, superintendent of education for the early years.

Other school boards contacted by The Globe and Mail said the province’s tight timeline will mean that libraries and computer labs will be used either for kindergarten pupils or for higher grades until classroom renovations are complete.

“In some places there will be challenges, no doubt,” Mr. deFreitas said.

Ontario’s full-day learning program incorporates two years of a revamped curriculum for junior and senior kindergarten. A teacher and an early childhood educator work in each kindergarten classroom. It will be years before Ontario taxpayers know whether the program delivers on its promise of higher graduation rates and improved academic outcomes. Early evidence from Ontario shows that children in the program are getting a leg up, especially in reading, vocabulary and phonetics. But other studies suggest children in a full-day program are academically no better off in the long term than those who attend a half-day program.

Parent Veronica Toth believes the program was not given full consideration before being rolled out. Her four-year-old son started full-day kindergarten this fall in Kanata, a suburb of Ottawa. Ms. Toth is concerned he is not fully benefiting from the program because he is in a large class of 30 students. She wants to see a maximum class size of 26 in kindergarten rooms.

“In most cases, the rooms are not large enough to accommodate a class size of 30 children,” she said. Ms. Toth added: “The program is not implemented properly.”

A spokeswoman for Education Minister Liz Sandals said the government is looking at the concerns expressed by parents and teachers. Lauren Ramey also acknowledged that construction delays will occur. The extent of delays and how many schools will have temporary makeshift arrangements will not be known until later this summer. But she said the government is sticking to its commitment that all four- and five-year-olds will have access to the program by the fall.

Follow on Twitter: @calphonso

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