Parents Concerned About Morris Special Classes

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3By Terry Rogers

In response to a petition created by Yvette Dennehy, a Milford School District parent, administrators at Evelyn I. Morris Early Childhood Center held a meeting on Tuesday, July 29 to address concerns from local families. The petition, which was created on Change.org, asked for support in reinstating daily specials, which include classes in art, music and physical education, back into the curriculum at Morris.

“Actually, specials have not been removed from the curriculum at Morris,” explained Principal Beth Conaway. “Although students do not attend a separate class for gym, art and music, those special subjects are incorporated into their school day in other ways. Over the past few years, we have implemented ‘Fabulous Fun Fridays’ where students enjoy a rotation of fun activities that include gym, art, music and kitchen, as well as library and life skills.”

At the meeting, Ms. Conaway explained that student counts for Kindergarten can be difficult to predict as the district does not always know how many students will enroll in the grade each year. With the recent financial issues at the district, all schools were asked to cut their budget significantly, which meant that Ms. Conaway had to decide how best to use the units she is given. Adding a physical education, art and music teacher dedicated to teaching just those subjects would mean that class sizes at Morris would go from 22 to 28 students. State regulations require Kindergarten classes to have no more than 22 students.

Ms. Conaway also explained that only students in first grade and above are required to have specials, but that she understands the importance of those types of classes at the kindergarten level. In fact, Morris has never had special teachers for all-day Kindergarten but the school did have those types of classes when they also housed first grade students.

“We have begun using some unique ways to incorporate specials into the school day,” Ms. Conaway explained. “Jon Lobiondo, my assistant principal, is a certified physical education teacher. We must get children off the buses early, and although we offer free breakfast to all students, not all students eat. Those that do not have breakfast spend ten minutes of movement in the gym with Mr. Lobiondo and Mr. Long at stations set up for them. In addition, we incorporate music throughout the school day, as well as art, as a way to reinforce learning. Students learn the handwriting song, for example. We know there is no way to have an effective Kindergarten program without including some fun activities for children.”

On the petition website, Ms. Dennehy said that she felt the parent meeting went well and that the administration was open and accommodating. There were nine parents at the meeting that lasted over two hours.

“While I am not completely satisfied, I do feel more comfortable now that they have explained how art, music and gym will be integrated into the day-to-day curriculum,” Ms. Dennehy said. “We will reconvene in October to discuss how the program is going and to request any changes that we feel are needed.” Ms. Dennehy said that she plans to form a parent task force to address concerns that are district wide, not just at Morris.

Ms. Conaway explained that Morris was the first and only Kindergarten building to receive a Distinguished Title I Award for two years in a row, earning $50,000 for that honor. They were only one of five schools to receive the award. She also explained that other schools used Morris as a benchmark when modeling their own Kindergarten schools.

“We appreciate that the parents were concerned and stress that if anyone has an issue they need to discuss, our doors are always open,” Ms. Conaway said. “We feel we work hard to meet the needs of parents and students and that we meet them well.” Ms. Conaway and Mr. Lobiondo also explained that the school would love to have members of the community visit the school to learn more about what they do and that volunteer positions are always welcome.

“If you have a half an hour, an hour, or any time at all that you could come in and read to a class or work with them hands-on, we would be eternally grateful,” Mr. Lobiondo said. “We welcome that type of community support. Every volunteer who has worked in the school says that they find it as rewarding as the children do.” If interested in volunteering at Morris, individuals are encouraged to contact Principal Conaway at 302-422-1650 for more information.