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Amsterdam educators warn of emerging kindergarten behavior issues

Ashley Onyon, The (Amsterdam) Recorder
Posted 10/28/22

Educators are raising the alarm about increasing behavioral issues exhibited by kindergartners in classrooms with more students than in previous years in the Greater Amsterdam School District.

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Amsterdam educators warn of emerging kindergarten behavior issues


Educators are raising the alarm about increasing behavioral issues exhibited by kindergartners in classrooms with more students than in previous years in the Greater Amsterdam School District.

“In a classroom of 23 students or more, it has been a challenge to keep them safe when they are leaving the classroom and exhibiting unsafe behaviors on a daily basis,” kindergarten teacher Sara Fenton told the Board of Education last week.

For the first time in her nine years teaching at Marie Curie Elementary School, Fenton said it’s been necessary to develop elopement plans for at least four students in order to manage and quickly locate children who run away from classrooms or supervised areas.

Teachers are struggling with a handful of students who are “constantly” running and even flipping desks, creating safety concerns for their classmates, Curie Principal Meaghan Butterfield said.

Educators are largely attributing rising issues to the disruptions of the coronavirus pandemic, which has led to more students first entering a school environment as kindergartners. These kids can struggle adapting to learning settings and routines often first introduced attending pre-K or day care.

“Not only has learning been impacted, but our children’s social skills have been deprived,” said Rosanne DiMauro, an elementary instructional coach for the district who previously taught kindergarten at Curie and McNulty Elementary School.

“While the student seems to be happy to come back to school, it takes very little to send them spiraling and often they display very disruptive behaviors. We’re seeing this every single day,” she added.

Teachers are worried the emerging issues among kindergartners could hinder students from learning foundational skills, creating learning gaps that could follow them throughout their education.

The problems that are common across area schools are being compounded in Amsterdam by teachers facing growing class sizes without the support of classroom aides, according to Fenton.

Superintendent Richard Ruberti on Tuesday said the district normally tries to limit kindergarten classes to around 20 students, but climbing enrollment over the summer has led some classes to grow to around 25.

The district is in the process of hiring teachers so it can add a fourth kindergarten section at both McNulty and Tecler Elementary Schools, where class sizes are the largest. The additions will allow students to be reassigned to the new sections and bring class sizes at those schools back down to around 20.

Teachers should be in place sometime next month and families will be notified ahead of time if their child’s classroom assignment is going to change, according to Ruberti.

The district is trying to further support kindergarten teachers by hiring teaching assistants and classroom aides, but Ruberti said around seven positions remain unfilled amidst workforce challenges due to the tight labor market.

Trying to attract candidates, Ruberti said the school board recently raised the pay for aides by approximately 11% and officials are considering another wage hike for teaching assistants in order to make the salaries more competitive.

Once installed, Ruberti said the added support staff will be able to help address learning gaps with individual students, while providing another layer of supervision in order to manage behavior issues.

“An extra person in the classroom definitely assists with that,” he said. “The instructional part is helped by having another person that can pull small groups or work with students individually to give them guidance or kind of redirect them during the class to say, pay attention to what’s happening here and redirect where their attention is going.”

Fenton urged officials to implement a strict limit on kindergarten class sizes and to add fourth sections at Curie and Barkley Elementary School to aid teachers struggling with large numbers of students as well.

Ruberti said the district is considering adding another kindergarten section at Curie, where class sizes are also reaching the mid-20s.

Although she acknowledged the hiring challenges the district is facing, Butterfield said more help is needed to support teachers who are showing signs of burnout in the second month of school, where she normally wouldn’t expect to see indications until spring. “I’m starting to get a little concerned with how we are going to get through the year with their mental aspect and the mental needs they have, let alone the students,” Butterfield said.


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