Make room for more tykes as Peninsula School District enrolls record number of kindergartners
Wearing a new backpack and an infectious smile, Annie Perrow was ready for kindergarten.
She had plenty of company.
Outside Discovery Elementary School in Gig Harbor on Tuesday, scores of parents were arriving with 5-year-olds in tow — eager new faces in the largest class of kindergartners in the history of the Peninsula School District.
So far, the district has counted 704 students registered, and it’s not finished counting. That’s 84 more than the 618 kindergartners from last year, the previous record.
“We have kids in every nook and cranny you can imagine,” said Becca Hughes, a kindergarten teacher at Discovery. Annie will be in her class of 21 kindergartners.
Kelly Perrow , Annie’s mother, said dropping her child off for school is a big step, but an exciting one. Perrow is a mother of two children. Annie is the youngest; the oldest is beginning second grade.
“It’s a bit easier doing this a second time,” Kelly said. “But it may be lonely at home because Annie is also my youngest.”
Annie, who taught herself how to swing before the school year began, said she brought ‘School-Puppy’ along with her, a small keychain dog attached to her backpack.
What did she like best about the first day? “Riding the bus!” she said.
She giggled, saying she is very excited to meet the kids in her class.
“I’m excited to play gaga ball with my brother,” Annie said, referring to a version of dodgeball the Discovery kids play during recess.
The flood of kindergartners is not a surprise to the district, which has been preparing for the baby bulge.
“If you go back 35 years or so, the number would typically be in the 500s, so 700-plus is quite a hit this year,” said Interim Superintendent Dr. Art Jarvis.
But the district can handle the influx, Jarvis said, thanks to the recently acquired Boys & Girls Club building.
Nine extra classrooms were opened up in that building for this year. Five of these rooms will be occupied by Discovery Elementary school fifth-graders and four will be used by preschool students with special needs or disabilities from Harbor Heights Elementary and Purdy Elementary.
Though that’s a large age gap, but Jarvis said the building is ‘beautifully’ set up for the two different groups of students to function in harmony.
“We have principals, secretaries, and full services,” Jarvis said. “But in two different parts in of the building. It’s been well-designed.”
Hughes said when she starting teaching at Discovery Elementary five years ago, there were only four kindergarten classes. This year there are six, a school built for only two kindergarten rooms.
With the fifth-graders moved to the new building, there is more room at Discovery, but as Hughes noted, “We have classrooms that are not necessarily made to be classrooms.”
She said having 125 kindergartners in the same building can be a challenge at bus time, or managing recess and lunch, but when it comes to her classroom management, everything stays the same.
“We’ll start right away talking about the letter A,” Hughes said, and then she’ll read from a book called ‘Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten.’
Hughes said her priority is to keep the children safe and create an environment for them to enjoy school. She said there will not be many paper-and-pencil tasks, but rather games and activities that get children moving and interacting with each other.
“The kids are not sitting anywhere for more than a couple minutes,” Hughes said. “These guys need to move, and learn a lot through play and a lot through just doing.”
Jarvis said the district has been able to add enough classrooms and teachers to keep kindergarten class sizes reasonable.
“I am quite pleased to say we are holding with our class sizes, staying within that 17 to 20 range,” Jarvis said. “Right now we are pretty much doing that across the district.”
The district has hired four new kindergarten teachers across the district within the last year.
The district bought the former Boys and Girls Club at 8502 Skansie Ave. for $12.8 million earlier this year, specifically to ease overcrowding.
The fifth-graders moved into that building were chosen because they will move on to middle school the following year, so they wouldn’t need to come back to Discovery after a year apart from the school. The preschoolers with disabilities were picked to keep them together where they can get support services..
“Most of the preschoolers have other needs, so things like speech occupational therapists working with the little ones can do so in four classrooms,” Jarvis said.
Kelly Perrow, Annie’s mom, said she is confident in the district’s ability to handle the big class, saying they hire the best teachers available.
“We trust this district,” Kelly said. “They have exceptional teachers, and I feel it is a safe place here.”
Hughes said the first month may be chaotic, but things will begin to run smoothly in no time.
“There’s nothing like the first day of kindergarten,” she said.