After eight years of teaching kindergarten in Hermiston, Amber Kellison has shepherded plenty of students through their first day of school. This year it was her turn to face a new adventure on Day 1.

Kellison is one of two teachers at West Park Elementary, and nine throughout Hermiston School District, braving her way through the district’s new full-day kindergarten pilot program before full implementation in 2015.

The first day included tears, yawns, wiggles and giggles, but overall Kellison said keeping the five-year-olds’ attention for the full school day turned out to be an easier task than she expected.

“It was awesome,” she said. “It went way better than I expected. They were wiggly and I was losing them near the end, but I thought it would be worse.”

She said from a teacher’s perspective, she could definitely see a few benefits. She only has to learn 24 names this year instead of 48, for example, and it’s easier to prepare half the art projects and keep track of half the supplies.

“We don’t have to share everything between morning and afternoon students, so I can keep it more personal,” Kellison said.

And, of course, the real reason behind the push for full-day kindergarten is as a way to increase instruction time — and, by extension, increase learning.

Monday afternoon the kindergarteners returned from recess to find a blank sheet of paper and set of paints in front of them. It may have been their first day of elementary school, but when Kellison asked the five-year-olds to write their names on their paper, heads bent down and the scratching of pencils filled the room.

Next she walked them through drawing a variety of shapes (“Can you tell me what the shape that looks like a kite is called?”), then set them loose with the watercolor paints, allowing several students to find out on their own that painting all of the colors on top of each other made brown — not rainbow-colored — shapes.

As the students finished their paintings and migrated to the “dinosaur island” mat to look at books, Matthew Erz and Kolton Piper were becoming fast friends.

“Do you want to meet my mom?” Matthew asked Kolton as they sprawled on the mat, their heads touching as they flipped

through the pages of a book together. “She’s really nice.”

As the clock ticked closer to final 2:20 p.m. bell, some students got wigglier, their exclamations of “Teacher! Look!” getting louder and more insistent. Others began to fade, rubbing their eyes and staying seated when Kellison suggested the class show her how a bunny hops.

By 2:05 it was time for everyone to start getting out their shiny new backpacks, adorned with Ninja Turtles, Barbies and Hot Wheels cars, and lining up to go outside. It was 2:25 by the time they got outside, but Kellison said that’s to be expected on the first day.

One little boy burst into tears as soon as he reached his mother, but others were bubbling with excitement.

After her first day on the new schedule, Kellison said she was loving full-day kindergarten.

“It rocks,” she said.


Contact Jade McDowell at or 541-564-4536.


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