Kindergarten registration is now open in Philadelphia

Adults stand near a group of young students while some have their hands raised and sitting on a colorful rug in a classroom.
Students in David Rovine's kindergarten class shared the accomplishments they're proudest of at Philadelphia's Ellwood Elementary School. (Carly Sitrin / Chalkbeat)

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Kindergarten registration is now open for the 2024-25 school year in Philadelphia, and the 5-year-old students at Ellwood Elementary School in the Oak Lane neighborhood want their peers to know what they’ve learned.

They can sound out words and explain how birds build their nests. They know how to cut paper and can match superheroes with their super senses. And they know about hammerhead sharks and how to play the “shake and spill” math game.

Ellwood’s 40 students are some of the 9,100 kindergarteners learning crucial early education skills across the city this school year, and district officials want that number to grow.

Kindergarten enrollment took a dip during the pandemic but has come close to recovering to pre-COVID levels: In 2019-2020 there were 9,880 students registered, but in 2020-21 that figure dropped to 7,140.

Superintendent Tony Watlington said Monday he is encouraging families to sign their 5-year-olds up before the May 31 deadline. In addition to helping the district prepare for next year, registering early also gives families a better chance for their students to be placed in seats at their neighborhood schools or schools of their choice.

“Getting registered for kindergarten is so important,” Watlington said at a press conference at Ellwood. “Kids who get an early start get a good foundation in reading and math and do well as they go through school.”

To be eligible, students must be 5 years old on or before Sept. 1, 2024. Parents and caregivers can sign their students up online on the district’s website or in-person by appointment at families’ neighborhood schools.

All 3- and 4-year-old students can enroll in free prekindergarten through the district if they won’t be 5 years old by the next school year.

Diane Castelbuono, the district’s deputy chief for early childhood, said registering as early as possible “gives families a chance to adjust and think about preparing for kindergarten.” It also gives schools the proper time “to get to know who the children are as they come in.”

Kindergarten is not mandatory in Pennsylvania, but Castelbuono said “almost everybody goes” in Philadelphia. She said that’s evidence that families in the city “really understand the importance of full day schooling at the earliest age.”

Watlington said he would “love for there to be compulsory kindergarten” in the state.

“We need more school, more time to learn, not less,” Watlington said. He’s already thrown his support behind new Mayor Cherelle Parker’s year-round-school proposal, promising to pilot the idea in the coming years.

Parker hasn’t revealed any details about what she wants year-round-school to look like, but she told Chalkbeat it won’t be “children sitting in a classroom at a desk” for 365 days.

Over the next few months, the district will be hosting open houses for registered students to come and meet their potential teachers and future classmates. One will be on March 5 and another will be during the week of May 13.

Students who go to Ellwood next year may have Erica Meyers, who has been teaching kindergarten in Philadelphia for eight years.

Meyers said “every day is a big win” in her classroom.

“I see these students come in to me, they don’t know how to sit in chairs. They don’t know how to sit on the carpet or raise their hands,” but they learn quickly, she said. And by the time they move on to first grade, Meyers said they’re adding, subtracting, and spelling their names.

“They’re making sounds, they’re reading and the little light bulbs go on, which is awesome,” Meyers said.

Carly Sitrin is the bureau chief for Chalkbeat Philadelphia. Contact Carly at csitrin@chalkbeat.org.

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