Op-Ed: Why Colorado Needs Full-Day Kindergarten

click to enlarge Governor Jared Polis reads to a Colorado classroom. - OFFICE OF THE GOVERNOR
Governor Jared Polis reads to a Colorado classroom.
Office of the Governor
Youngsters enter into kindergarten at such an important time in their lives — a short window of raw, excited curiosity and eager exploration.

If we can harness and nurture that feeling of wonder, it has the power to amplify a child’s academic trajectory and create a lifetime of prosperity. If we don’t, we run the risk of failing our youngest people from a very early age and perpetuating inequalities that have held back students of color and students from low-income families.

I have devoted my entire life to the fight for equal rights and opportunities for all people, and I have found that the most direct way to lift people up and help them achieve their full potential is through education.

I know Governor Jared Polis shares this goal — he started a school for English learners and another for at-risk youth and, as governor, has turned his focus to education. The governor and his partners in the legislature rightly acknowledge that education can be the silver bullet to cure some of the most pervasive societal injustices and discrepancies.

As he and the legislature pioneer full-day kindergarten for our state, I recognize this is not just a fight to improve the lives of students, but a fight for equality.

Right now, early childhood education in Colorado is inherently unequal. Some school districts offer full-day kindergarten and they have to cut teacher salaries or other educational priorities to do it. Other schools can only afford to offer half-day and ask parents to pick up the tab for the rest.

By funding full-day kindergarten at the state level, we can ensure that every child has the tools they need to succeed from the earliest possible age.
click to enlarge Graduates of Escuela Tlatelolco, who thrived after an early start. - ESCUELA TLATELOLCO
Graduates of Escuela Tlatelolco, who thrived after an early start.
Escuela Tlatelolco
As the former head of Escuela Tlatelolco, a school born out of the Chicano movement, I’ve seen the difference that full-day kindergarten makes in children’s lives every day. I know that full-day kindergarten leads to higher levels of achievement in math and reading, and better social skills. I know that it gives them the keys to success.

Children who are not in school at all or for only half days fall behind their peers and stay behind for years to come. Future teachers do their best to catch these children up to the academic levels of their peers, but it becomes more and more difficult to erase gaps that have worsened over time.

Full-day kindergarten will ensure these discrepancies don’t happen in the first place. It will enable each family to create the best future for their children. Investing in early childhood education can help propel families — especially families of color — out of poverty, and set them up for future success. With full-day kindergarten, parents will no longer have to cut other areas of the family budget to pay for kindergarten tuition or child care.

Under this proposal, families will no longer have to sacrifice their child’s educational development to pay for groceries, rent or utilities. They can invest in their children’s future instead of just treading water.

With full-day kindergarten available for all, children of every ethnicity and culture can be empowered to thrive.

I remember a young Chicana girl who came to preschool with no knowledge of the alphabet or numbers but caught up to grade level within just nine weeks of full-day schooling. I remember a Mexicano boy who came to kindergarten only knowing how to speak Spanish. By the end of kindergarten, he had learned to read English at a second-grade level while retaining his Spanish skills. These children’s academic achievements are astounding and were only made possible by full-day instruction at a very young age.

With full-day kindergarten implemented at the state level, we can have even more of these success stories.

We have a sacred obligation to give our children every opportunity in life. To give them a better chance than we had. We can help propel them to greatness by implementing full-day kindergarten now. Sí, se puede!

Nita Gonzales has been active in Denver for more than five decades, and not just as the head of the legendary Escuela Tlatelolco. She's currently a member of the Chancellor’s Minority Advisory Committee at the University of Colorado at Denver; a founding boardmember of Colorado Latino Forum; a boardmember of Clinica Tepeyac; a member of the President’s Cabinet, Metropolitan State University; and a boardmember of the Denver City and County Community Oversight Board.

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