A diverse group of young students sit cross-legged for storytime at Rose Avenue elementary in Toronto. The kids are joyful, yet focused, and the group is small enough that the two teachers in the room are able to give one-on-one attention when needed.
The school’s principal enters, and the children greet him with a sing-songy "Good afternoon, Mr. Crichton.” They smile, return their attention to the story, and remain completely unaware that they’re part of something that could prove revolutionary.
It’s something that has been commonplace in Ontario for the last few years, but before that it was thought of as a pipe dream: full-day junior and senior kindergarten, open to all 4- and 5-year-olds in the province.
The junior kindergarten year is equivalent to what is called high-quality pre-K in the United States.
The classes are taught by two teachers, one certified in elementary education and the other with early-childhood credentials. And for two years, the kids stay with the same cohort.
“This is fabulous for parents, for young families,” said Janette Pelletier, a professor in the Eric Jackman School of Child Study at the University of Toronto. “And the quality is high because it’s monitored. It’s part of the school system.”
Pelletier’s research of a pilot program helped push Ontario toward implementing the two-year universal kindergarten program in 2010.
Before that, the province provided only one year of half-day kindergarten.