Anna Pechia (left) and Claudia Taborda teach kindergarten in the library at St. Paschal Baylon School in Toronto. Photo by Evan Boudreau.

Overflow in full-day kindergarten

  • September 26, 2014

To meet Ministry of Education deadlines for implementation of full-day kindergarten, the Toronto Catholic school board has resorted to creating makeshift classrooms in gymnasiums and libraries for many of its youngest students.

At least nine of Toronto’s Catholic elementary schools were unable to accommodate kindergarten students in regular classrooms when schools reopened on Sept. 2. The four and five year olds will remain in temporary quarters until construction is complete on rooms that are specially designed for them.

Although they are not in conventional classrooms, they are in an “appropriate” space, said Cristina Fernandes, the board’s superintendent of early learning.

“They are not in cubby holes,” she said. “They are in a large enough space to accommodate the children.”

The Ministry of Education has been phasing in full-day kindergarten since 2010 and set 2014 as the deadline for full implementation for all elementary schools across the province.

Toronto schools operating with makeshift classrooms include St. Malachy in Scarborough, Our Lady of Victory in Etobicoke and St. Paschal Baylon in North York. 

Although particular situations vary, Fernandes said the main reason for the classroom conundrum is construction.

“We want to try to do as much of our construction work when children are out of school, and the biggest period in which we can do that obviously is the summer,” she said. “That’s not sufficient time.”

Toronto isn’t the only board that’s improvising. Pat Daly, chair of the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board, said some schools in his board were shocked at the number of last-minute kindergarten enrolments.

“You never can have too many students — we’re always pleased about that,” he said. “But four classes were over 30 (students) and I know our senior administration is still working with our principals to reduce that.”

He said some of overflow issues have been addressed but at least one school is holding kindergarten in the library.

Although surprisingly high enrolment is the major source of the crowding problem in Hamilton-Wentworth, Daly said at least one school will face construction issues into the new year.

Some Toronto schools also experienced a surprise surge in enrolment figures. Fernandes expects most construction to be completed by mid-November, although “some of these projects are going to take four months,” she said.

Despite the disruption, Fernandes and Daly both said kindergarten programs are not significantly affected.

“I understand the inconvenience to the teacher and the students,” Daly said. “Obviously it is not ideal if they are in a gymnasium (or library) but the quality of the education, the teachers and the staff, is not overly impacted. But at the same time I don’t think we should minimize that.”

Anna Pevchia, a kindergarten teacher at St. Paschal Baylon, said her temporary library classroom does not pose a significant problem.

“We tried to set up the classroom as best as possible to make it a warm, caring environment,” she said. “We put up things that they are interested in. We are moving along in our program as if we were in the regular classroom (but), like I said earlier, there are challenges.”

The biggest challenge is that the library is on the second floor, which means several times a day 30 small students must be escorted up and down stairs. Also, the library is not close to a washroom.

Parents have been well informed and, for the most part, have been understanding, Pevchia said.

“We had open communication with the parents and they know it is a temporary situation,” she said. 

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