Philadelphia pushes kindergarten registration for the coming school year

Two women and two children are in a school library.
Two 5-year-olds and their mothers helped Philadelphia district leaders launch kindergarten registration at an event in the library at Kirkbride Elementary School. Leticia Meneses and her son Gael Carmona-Meneses are at left, and Luke Julien and his mom, Rebecca Julien, who is also Kirkbride’s principal, are at right. (Dale Mezzacappa / Chalkbeat)

Luke Julien and Gael Carmona-Meneses know exactly what kindergarten is for. 

“Literacy, reading, even science, stuff like that,” Luke said. “I know a lot about it.”

Gael added another cool activity: “I like to paint right now.” 

The two 5-year-olds at Kirkbride Elementary School in Queen Village on Thursday helped district leaders launch a key moment in the school calendar: the first day of kindergarten registration. 

Kindergarten is not mandatory in Pennsylvania, so some families think it is not important. Not so, said Superintendent William Hite and Deputy Chief for Early Education Diane Castelbuono. Kindergarten “puts students on the path to long-term success,” she said.

The district’s registration initiative is called “Thrive at Five.” 

“I know next fall seems like a long time away,” said Castelbuono. But the district would like families to register by the end of May, although it will not turn students away after that – although, because it is not mandatory, some schools may not have room. The early deadline is for planning purposes and because “it helps families make the psychological transition and spend the summer thinking about kindergarten readiness” through reading and other activities, Castelbuono said. All children who will be 5 years old by Sept. 1 are eligible. 

Kindergarten registration plummeted during the 2020-2021 school year, which was mostly virtual, and it has been slow to rebound. Castelbuono said that for this year it is back up to about 90% of eligible children – close to the pre-pandemic norm. 

Philadelphia was the first district in the state to offer universal full-day kindergarten. Many suburban and rural districts continue to just offer half-day programs. 

But with more research showing the importance of early childhood education, that is starting to change. (Although there is no organized movement in Harrisburg to make it mandatory and have the state help districts pay for it.)

Luke is the son of Kirkbride Principal Rebecca Julien, who said she was proud to lead a school that her own child attends. Kirkbride, in Queen Village, is a “neighborhood school with resources and a diversity of learners,” she said, who speak many languages and come from many different cultures. This helps students “build empathy at a young age. Kindergarten is one of the most effective ways to help children understand the academic and social lessons that will help them become contributing members of society.”

Gael’s mom Leticia Meneses, who spoke in Spanish through an interpreter, said her son “has made new friends and is exploring a new world.” The teachers help students feel confident they can do homework by themselves. “Kindergarten is a good option for children…a first step for their future,” she said. 

Parents can register their children online or in person at their neighborhood school. If they are not certain which catchment they are in, they can find their school on the district’s website. Instructions are in several languages. 

The district will also be having a kindergarten registration day on March 1, and there is also a mobile truck making the rounds to city neighborhoods that has a QR code on its side that opens the registration website.  

Luke and Gael – who are members of the graduating class of 2034 – were asked if there was anything they would tell students who would be entering kindergarten in September. 

“Don’t be shy, you have to be nice to people,” Luke said. Make sure “you don’t hurt people,” said Gael.

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