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Opinion: If we can make full-day kindergarten a reality, I won’t be stuck in my car all day

I talked to various members of my local school district, and everyone was in favor of full-day kindergarten. So why don’t we have it?

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Kindergartners Trinity Trujillo, Carlos Meija and Robert Espinoza attend class at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School.

Kindergartners Trinity Trujillo, left, Carlos Meija and Robert Espinoza attend class at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School in Salt Lake City on Friday, Feb. 25, 2022.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

I just registered my last kid for kindergarten for the fall of 2023, and I’m hoping he will be able to attend a full-day program.

I’ve got a fairly average Utah family: four kids total, spaced roughly two years apart. Their current grades are fourth, second, first and preschool. Next school year will be the first time I’ll have them all at the same school, a convenience I’ve been looking forward to for some time now.

For two glorious years, I will be able to pick them up and drop them off, all at the same location, every school day. With any luck, during the upcoming legislative session, our state Legislature will increase funding for full-day kindergarten. Then, this convenience would include two years of picking them up and dropping them off, all at the same time. 

Anyone who has kids spaced as closely together as I do (and my anecdotal experience is there are lots of us) knows: the struggle of half-day kindergarten is real. With kids so close together in age, our family has endured multiple years of mismatched preschool, half-day kindergarten and full-day elementary schedules. To keep up, I’ve been stuck in a car for most of the day, looking forward to a time when I won’t have to hop back on the road every 90 minutes to shuttle someone to or from school. 

After two years of dealing with half-day kindergarten schedules, with these daily challenges fresh in my mind, I started researching why full-day kindergarten isn’t an option at our local elementary school. 

We live in Jordan School District, in an area booming with growth. I’m a practical person. I realize that there are realities (lack of classroom space, staffing issues, unpredictable enrollment, etc) that prevent some schools from offering optional full-day kindergarten to every family. It took me a minute to piece together the precise puzzle of challenges that prevents my local school from doing so. 

I spoke with our community’s school board representative, our school principal, my children’s teachers, the local PTA, our school community council and a Jordan School District representative. What I learned after all that is this: every single person I talked to wants full-day kindergarten to be an option for more families. 

I discovered that our neighborhood elementary school actually has sufficient staff and classroom space. What we lack is the funding required to pay the salaries of these incredible teachers. who would very much like to teach full-day kindergarten. The Legislature can approve that funding during this upcoming session.

I hope our final child has the chance to attend full-day kindergarten. Having all our kids in the same school, at the same time, would open the door to so many opportunities for me. I would have an increased ability to volunteer or work at our school, which desperately needs additional classroom aides. I could further my career, or even be home long enough to switch a load of laundry from the washer to the dryer. 

If our state leaders fund expansion of optional full-day kindergarten, I may get to see my child experience the positive academic and social benefits it provides. But even if this doesn’t happen in time to benefit my family, I still believe it’s a cause worth fighting for. 

Nelson Henderson said, “The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” I believe optional full-day kindergarten is a tree worth planting for all Utah families, now and in the future.

Morgan Bangerter lives in Herriman, where her four children attend the Jordan School District.