ST PAUL, Minnesota — Schools are preparing for a surge of kindergartners who sat out last year because of the pandemic.
St. Paul Public Schools (SPPS) anticipates a 22% increase in kindergarten enrollment for fall 2021. As reported by the Associated Press, school districts all across the nation are expecting to see an increase.
"I've been looking to the fall since January," said Lori Erickson, assistant director of the Office of Early Learning for SPPS. Erickson runs the pre-K program which took a hit during the pandemic.
"For the very first time, we were under-enrolled in our pre-K program," Erickson said. "Looking forward, our enrollment for next fall in pre-K is full."
With extra money from the state, their pre-K summer session is expanding. The program will include seven rooms, 140 kids, at five days a week for full days. They're targeting children that have not had a pre-K experience in order to get them ready to transition to kindergarten.
"We've always had a summer program for that purpose but not to this extent. We are adding bilingual supports, social work supports. We are doing enrichment opportunities every single week. We're going on a field trip or having some type of an enrichment experience with local artists," Erickson explained.
They are also offering developmental checks through early childhood screening this summer.
"It is required for every child to have before they enter kindergarten," Erickson said. "If your child has not had early childhood screening, take advantage, get signed up. Have that screening completed before you enter either pre-K, kindergarten...because it truly is that developmental check. Is everything on target? Is everything ready to go? And if it's not, it's okay. It's just an opportunity to get the resources that you need to move forward."
The Minnesota Department of Education will not have data on enrollment for the 2021-2022 school year until early 2022. However, a spokesperson said public kindergarten enrollment saw a 9% decrease from the previous year. Private school kindergarten enrollment increased 12.5%. While some students chose nonpublic options, other families may have chosen to delay kindergarten.
SPPS did not have data related to parents choosing to have their kid repeat kindergarten, but Erickson said that is a choice some parents have made.
"Our teachers did a great job — hear me loud and clear — they did an amazing job in the distance learning environment but it is really challenging to replicate pre-K and kindergarten in a distance learning setting," Erickson said.
According to Erickson, having students of different ages who are at different stages in learning for one grade is normal. So while that will look similar to what they've seen in the past, there will be some differences.
"Just everything that's happened this past year, we are going to be ready to offer additional social, emotional supports — pre-K, pre-K-12 — within our system to recognize that things happened this past year," Erickson said.
SPPS said it will need to hire additional teachers for kindergarten, given the expected increase in students.
KARE 11 also reached out to Minneapolis Public Schools but the district was not able to provide data on kindergarten enrollment in time for the story.