Utah School Districts Prepare After Thousands Of Children Skipped Kindergarten

Aug 9, 2021, 11:49 PM | Updated: Aug 10, 2021, 12:01 am

SALT LAKE CITYEnrollment numbers show thousands of Utah children missed out on kindergarten last year because of the pandemic, which could impact their learning for years to come.

So, will they be ready or not as students head back to school?

Marcello clicked on his computer program to identify the letter “C.”

Applause confirmed he chose the right letter.

“It’s helping me read,” he proclaimed proudly.

Marcello is one of thousands of Utah children who lost learning opportunities during COVID.

Marcello participates in an on-line school readiness program called Waterford Upstart. (KSL TV)

He struggled when part of his kindergarten was online.

His mom, Erika Aleman, was worried at first.

“Having it look like there would be no classes and he’d basically lose the school year,” she said.

The Davis School District also had concerns. Of their 20,000 students in Pre-K through 3rd grade, 5,000 were identified as not reading at grade level.

“Our littlest learners are the ones who didn’t get all the academic attention that they needed to get,” said Belinda Kuck, director of teaching and learning.

But those were just the students they knew about.

During the pandemic, Davis District’s kindergarten enrollment dropped a whopping 22 percent. More than 1,100 five and six-year-olds didn’t get their start to school.

KSL-TV surveyed most of Utah’s largest school districts and found a similar situation:

  • Salt Lake District — enrollment dropped 20%
  • Ogden District — enrollment dropped 19%
  • Granite District — enrollment dropped 16%
  • Jordan, Alpine and Canyons all saw smaller declines, but still lost hundreds of kindergartners.

The Utah State Board of Education reports statewide kindergarten enrollment dropped 9.7 percent during the 2020-2021 school year.

In what the New York Times calls the “Kindergarten Exodus,” nationwide data suggests kindergarten enrollment declined 9.3%.

So, what’s the big deal about children missing kindergarten?

“What they learn between kindergarten and third grade will affect everything else they do,” said Kuck.

In Utah, kindergarten isn’t mandatory, so many parents pulled their children to homeschool during the pandemic.

Others simply sat out the pandemic, and in some districts, students’ only choice was home school.

Within all those reasons, students of color were three times more likely to stay home than return to school in person, according to a survey of 677 school districts by the Associated Press and Chalkbeat.

So, the COVID impact exacerbated the learning gap for many of the most at-risk students.

Salt Lake kindergarten teacher Hannah Wille said she’s concerned about those children getting left behind.

“If a student isn’t on grade level by a certain age, then that deficit just keeps growing, and it becomes exponentially harder for a student to catch up,” she said.

Several studies underscore that concern. Seventy-four percent of children who are still struggling by third grade won’t ever catch up.

Utah schools are taking unprecedented measures to get them ready for the upcoming school year.

In the Salt Lake School District, they offered full-day summer school and extended the program two extra weeks.

They’ll also continue after-school programs.

In the Davis District, in addition to summer school, students like Marcello participated in an on-line school readiness program called Waterford Upstart.

The Utah program offers school districts and families software, hardware — if needed — and family coaching.

“It provides students with the strong foundation and also teachers with the data they need for further intervention, if they need it,” said Jenni Torres, senior vice president of curriculum for Waterford.

Upstart has proven so successful, the Utah Legislature has increased funding.

State and private funding will provide Upstart for free to any Utah family that wants it for their young learners.

Marcelo’s mother said the program is helping him enter first grade prepared.

“It’s going to pay off because he’s received, and mom has supported and led and directed him in working in the Waterford program,” said Kuck.

The other group that will be vital in making sure students are prepared is Utah’s kindergarten teachers. Every year, they get students with a broad range of skills, so they are skilled at assessing students, and they clearly understand what is at stake.

“Early learning is so important — it gets our students off to the right start,” said Holley McIntosh, math supervisor in the Salt Lake District. “It helps them develop good attitudes about school and it sets an academic foundation.”

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

Back to School

(KSL TV)...
Ladd Egan, KSL TV

Money for Utah teacher bonuses headed to districts by June

Teachers who took on extra work during the omicron surge will soon be getting a thank you in their paychecks
1 month ago
(KSL TV)...

Mask mandates go away in schools, but parent worries persist

Major school districts around the country are allowing students into classrooms without masks for the first time in nearly two years, eliminating rules that stirred up intense fights among educators, school boards, and parents throughout the pandemic.
3 months ago
FILE: STEM teacher Julie Nye at Lone Peak Elementary (KSL TV)...
Eliza Pace & Ladd Egan, KSL TV

Gov. Cox allows state employees time off to substitute teach in local schools

Gov. Spencer Cox issued an executive order Monday allowing state employees to take approved leave from work to substitute teach or fill other needed positions in Utah schools.
4 months ago
FILE PHOTO (Cache County School District)...
Josh Ellis, KSL TV

Cache County schools adjust schedules due to student, staff absenteeism

The Cache County School District has announced adjusted schedules for all of its schools due to "unprecedented student and staff absenteeism."
4 months ago
FILE PHOTO: Viewmont High School student Becca Marsden is tested for COVID-19 by Davis School Distr...
Tamara Vaifanua, KSL TV

Utah House votes to suspend Test to Stay program

Lawmakers in the Utah House of Representatives have approved a bill that would suspend the state's Test to Stay program and clarify how schools would request to go remote.
4 months ago
An unidentified school hallway.(FILE PHOTO, KSL TV)...
Lauren Steinbrecher, KSL TV

Some parents, teachers ‘frustrated’ SLC schools can no longer require masks

As students and educators in Salt Lake City head back to in-person school Monday, they'll do so without the mask requirement the district's had in place throughout the pandemic.
4 months ago

Sponsored Articles

Earth day 2022...

How Are You Celebrating Earth Day 2022? | 4 Simple Ways to Celebrate Earth Day and Protect the Environment

Earth Day is a great time to reflect on how we can be more environmentally conscious. Here are some tips for celebrating Earth Day.
Get Money Online...

More Ways to Get Money Online Right Now in Your Spare Time

Here are 4 easy ways that you can get more money online if you have some free time and want to make a little extra on the side.
Lighting trends 2022...

Lighting Trends 2022 | 5 Beautiful Home Lighting Trends You Can Expect to See this Year and Beyond

This is where you can see the latest lighting trends for 2022 straight from the Lightovation Show at the Dallas World Trade Center.
What Can't You Throw Away in the Trash...

What Can’t You Throw Away in the Trash? | 5 Things You Shouldn’t Throw in to Your Trash Can

What can't you throw away in the trash? Believe it or not, there are actually many items that shouldn't be thrown straight into the trash.
Make Money Online Easily...

4 Ways that You Can Make Money Online Easily in Just a Few Clicks

Here are 4 ways that you can make money online easily in no time at all! Some are as simple as just a few clicks away.
tips to winterize your home...
Bonneville Digital SLC

Tips to Winterize Your Home | The Top 5 Ways You Can Prepare for the Cold Utah Winter Ahead

Before the snow hits, here are the top 5 tips to winterize your home to prepare for the cold Utah winter this year.
Utah School Districts Prepare After Thousands Of Children Skipped Kindergarten