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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014

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MPS will roll out the first day of school carpet for kindergarteners on a staggered schedule next week.
MPS will roll out the first day of school carpet for kindergarteners on a staggered schedule next week.

MPS staggers start of school to help youngest students feel at home

Taking something of a page from the book of the district’s successful public Montessori schools, all MPS schools this year will use a staggered start to help introduce primary-aged children to their schools.

In the past, the Montessori schools -- whose K3, K4 and K5 kids share classrooms -- welcomed K5 students on the first day of school and every few days, over the course of a week and a half, phased in a few more K3 and K4 students until all students were together in their classrooms.

The idea of the staggered start is that it allows teachers to focus more on a smaller group of kids to help get them accustomed to their classrooms, schools and procedures. It also helps teachers and children to get acquainted more quickly.

This year, all MPS 3-, 4- and 5-year-old kindergarteners will begin on one of three days: the first day of school for programs on the standard academic calendar, Tuesday, Sept 2; Wednesday, Sept. 3; or Thursday, Sept. 4.

But they’re not phasing in. Instead, these students -- including Head Start and special needs students -- will have their second day of school on Friday, Sept. 5. That means some will start on Sept. 2 and have two days off before returning. Others will begin on Wednesday with a break on Thursday before heading back to school Friday.

That's an important fact for parents, who will have to be sure to arrange child care for a day or two they may have expected their kids to be in school.

The district's six public Montessori schools are still allowed to use the phase-in method, but must complete it by Friday, Sept. 5, rather than taking a week and a half to do it, as in the past.

"It's critical for our youngest students to experience a positive transition from home to school and staggered start is one way we are committed to making that happen," MPS Acting Superintendent Dr. Darienne Driver said in a statement released today.

Schools are communicating the staggered start procedure to families and it is important to note that if a child shows up on a day he or she isn’t scheduled to attend during the staggered start period, that child will be welcomed into the classroom. The child WILL NOT be turned away.

Though it was not included in the district’s official statement today, administration is urging schools to take advantage of staggered start to help build parent engagement.

"Parent engagement in schools is much more than parent teacher conferences; parent engagement is fostered through multiple opportunities and activities designed to engage parents in their child’s school and education," reads a communication sent to principals.

"Staggered Start is an incredible opportunity for schools to engage parents. As traditional schools implement staggered start, below you will find a list of strategies that could be offered to parents during staggered start (Sept. 2, 3 and 4) to build relationships and ease the transition to the school year."

These are some of the ways the district suggests principals and staff use staggered start days to foster parental engagement in schools:

  • Host a breakfast for parent and child on first day of school.
  • Provide a tour of the school on the first day.
  • Demonstrate an activity supportive of learning that can be replicated at home.
  • Complete an in-class parent engagement activity, i.e. shared story and literacy activity, math activity, etc.
  • Provide a resource fair for parents to receive information. Representatives that can share information could be the Health Department, Fire Department, Milwaukee County Library, CLC, or other community businesses.
  • Provide parents with a transition resource packet inclusive of a transition book, supplies, and milestone information.
  • Conduct additional surveys to identify needs, interests, talents, and availability of parents (in addition to the staggered start survey)
  • Have a back-to-school book drive or school supply drive.

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