ELWOOD, Long Island (PIX11) — College preparation and career readiness are concepts usually associated with students, but because one local elementary school wants to apply those concepts to its kindergarten students, it’s canceled a play that five and six year-olds have been participating in at the school for decades.
Because the issue of student preparation affects virtually every public school student, the story has gained international attention.
The play, which typically features group musical and spoken word performances by the children, has been part of the the traditions of Harley Avenue Primary School in Elwood for so long that video from last year’s performance begins with the principal announcing to the first through fifth grade students assembled to watch the play, “I’m sure many of you can remember when you were in a kindergarten play.”
But the interim principal of Harley Avenue Primary School this year signed a letter sent home on Friday, saying that the play was canceled.
“The letter alone,” said Tabitha Black, the parent of a Harley Avenue second grader who participated in the play two years ago, “the wording alone was a little harsh to the parents.”
Specifically, it was the passage from the letter, according to kindergarten- and second-grade parent Colleen Fox, about “the college readiness at [age] five and six.”
The letter said, in part, “The reason for eliminating the Kindergarten show is simple. We are responsible for preparing children for college and career with valuable life long skills and know that we can best do that by having them become strong readers, writers, coworkers and problem solvers.”
Many parents argue, however, that the play helps to achieve many of those important learning goals. “It teaches the kids to work together,” said Black, the mother of the girl who did the play two years ago. “It teaches them confidence because they’re up on the stage. All these things [the school claims] they want to teach them, it teaches them right there, and they have fun doing it.”
Other parents said they want to ensure their kindergarteners are well prepared for first grade, with post-secondary work far on the horizon. “My daughter knows what college is,” said kindergarten parent Ashley Weiner, “but I don’t think she understands or is preparing for it yet,” she said, adding that she prefers it that way.
The issue has now gained international attention, thanks almost entirely to a change.org petition that sought 1500 signatures when it was launched Friday by a Harley Avenue mom, Ninette Solis. As of Monday evening, at least 2300 people had signed, and the numbers continue to steadily rise.
The school district’s response to the efforts has not been direct. Superintendent Peter Scordo will not comment in person about the situation. Instead, his office is referring reporters to its P.R. firm, Syntax. Its manager sarcastically described the play cancellation to PIX11 News as a “traumatic situation,” before sending out an email about the situation.
That email reads, in part, that “the traditional kindergarten performance requires multiple days away from classroom work for preparation and execution, and together with the lost instructional time this year due to poor weather, is not the best use of the limited time we have.”
The most important recipients of the school’s time are its kindergarteners, who will not get their play this year. One of them is John Fox, 6. He summed up in a word the emotion his 80 or so fellow students are having, knowing that they’ll be without an activity that’s been such a big part of the Harley Avenue Primary School experience.
“Mad,” John said. When asked why, he responded that the children “think it’s unfair.”
Many parents also said that part of the problem is that Harley Avenue has only a half-day kindergarten program, with only 2 1/2 hours a day in the classroom. Parents told PIX11 News that they would be very willing to pay to have full day kindergarten, even if it meant raising their taxes. That way, they said, the academic instruction that the school district claims it needs to ensure children are getting, will be given the time it deserves, along with fun activities like the play.
Currently, the school offers a pay-by-the-day extended kindergarten that is fully booked with 60 students, according to parents.
For now, despite strong parent reaction to the cancellation, including the online petition, there is no plan to stage the play.
Parents are expected to very vocally express their feelings about the situation at a school board meeting Monday evening.