Twenty six years ago this summer, I sat in a tiny, windowless office at Central School, trying to make sense of the papers, files, and other materials on the desk (really not a desk, but an old piece of dining room furniture!) in front of me. I had just taken the position of Executive Director of Haddonfield Child Care, a one year old program which was among the first afterschool programs started in NJ. A very dedicated group of parents, most of whom were among the people who had originally conceived of the program as a need in the community, and proceeded to make it a reality, had spent long hours interviewing me. Now the first director, whose mother was gravely ill, handed me the job of preparing for the fall of 1986, and pretty much left me alone for the summer to accomplish it.
High on the priority list was preparing for the second piece of Haddonfield Child Care to be rolled out: the kindergarten wraparound program they had dubbed the Extended Day Kindergarten Program (EDKP). It was to open in September in a former storage room, freshly emptied and painted, at Haddonfield Memorial High School. I was to outfit the room, develop the curriculum, hire the staff, and register the students. With no peers doing similar work available to consult in those days, the whole concept was left to me to devise.
Now, more than twenty five years later, I have helped a number of other districts develop similar programs. And this year, a committee of the HCC Board of Trustees has spent the better part of the past twelve months reviewing the program, considering everything from the curriculum to the cabinetry as they devoted many hours determining what still worked, what could be improved, and what new ideas could be incorporated. We think that this new group of parents, representing the current generation of kindergarten children and their families, has done an excellent job taking a good, solid program, which has served hundreds of Haddonfield children, and ensuring that it reflects the needs of the twenty first century families and schools. We feel that the carefully edited program curriculum, reflecting our 25 years of experience combined with current research and best practices, will better meet the needs of today’s kindergarteners. A newly outfitted classroom will provide a fresh environment in which to carry out the current curriculum.
Ironically, registration this year is at its highest in many years, probably due to the difficult economy and the desire by parents to keep their children stimulated and challenged for a full school day. Twenty five years ago, a debate still raged over whether kindergarteners should even be participating in a full day program; now, as we see by the number of full day kindergartens in NJ and the high EDKP enrollment, the ability of 5 year olds to make it through a full day of activities seems to be generally accepted.
As I move out the last few vestiges of that first year of EDKP (yes, some chairs actually lasted that long!), visions of the many children who attended that first year and in subsequent EDKP groups will flash before me. I still hear from many of them, and hope that they will someday feel comfortable sending their own children to the HCC Extended Day Kindergarten Program as part of their Haddonfield school experience.