Amsterdam educators warn of emerging behavior problems in kindergarten

Educators are sounding the alarm over the increase in behavioral problems exhibited by kindergarten children in classrooms with more students than in previous years in the Greater Amsterdam School District.

“In a class of 23 or more students, it was difficult to keep them safe when they left the classroom and exhibited dangerous behaviors on a daily basis,” kindergarten teacher Sara Fenton told the Board of Education last week. .

For the first time in nine years of teaching at Marie Curie Primary School, Fenton said it was necessary to draw up escape plans for at least four pupils in order to quickly manage and locate children who ran off. flee classrooms or supervised areas.

Teachers are struggling with a handful of students who are “constantly” running around and even turning desks over, creating safety concerns for their classmates, Curie headmaster Meaghan Butterfield said.

Educators largely attribute the growing problems to the disruptions of the coronavirus pandemic, which has led to more pupils entering a school environment for the first time as kindergartens. These children may struggle to adjust to the learning settings and routines often first introduced in pre-kindergarten or daycare.

“Not only has learning been impacted, but our children’s social skills have been deprived,” said Rosanne DiMauro, an elementary instructional coach for the district who previously taught kindergarten at Curie and McNulty Elementary School.

“While the student seems happy to be back at school, it takes very little to send him spiraling and he often displays very disruptive behaviors. We see this every day,” she added.

Teachers worry that emerging issues in kindergarten children will prevent students from learning foundational skills, creating learning gaps that could follow them through their education.

Problems common to schools in the region are compounded in Amsterdam by teachers facing growing class sizes without the support of classroom assistants, according to Fenton.

Superintendent Richard Ruberti said Tuesday the district normally tries to limit kindergarten classes to about 20 students, but increased enrollment over the summer has led to some classes reaching about 25.

The district is hiring teachers so it can add a fourth kindergarten section at McNulty and Tecler Elementary Schools, where class sizes are the largest. The additions will allow pupils to be reassigned to new sections and reduce class sizes in those schools to around 20.

Teachers are expected to be in place next month and families will be notified ahead of time if their child’s class assignment will change, according to Ruberti.

The district is trying to further support kindergarten teachers by hiring teaching assistants and teacher aides, but Ruberti said about seven positions remained vacant amid labor challenges due to the job market. tense.

Trying to entice applicants, Ruberti said the school board recently raised assistant salaries by about 11% and officials were considering another salary increase for teaching assistants to make salaries more competitive.

Once installed, Ruberti said the additional support staff will be able to help bridge learning gaps with individual students, while providing another layer of supervision to manage behavioral issues.

“An extra person in the class definitely helps with that,” he said. “The educational part is helped by the fact that another person can form small groups or work with the students individually to give them advice or redirect them in some way during the course to say, pay attention to what is happening here and redirect where their attention is going.”

Fenton urged officials to put in place a strict limit on kindergarten class sizes and add fourth sections at Curie and Barkley Elementary School to also help teachers struggling with large numbers of students.

Ruberti said the district is considering adding another kindergarten section in Curie, where class sizes are also reaching the mid-20s.

While she acknowledged the hiring challenges the district faces, Butterfield said more help is needed to support teachers who show signs of burnout in the second month of school, where she doesn’t. wouldn’t normally expect to see any signs until spring. “I’m starting to worry a bit about how we’re going to spend the year with their mental aspect and the mental needs that they have, not to mention the students,” Butterfield said.

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