Less kindergartners are attending Gaston County Schools this school year amid the COVID-19 pandemic and steady decline of enrollment in the last few years.
Gaston County Schools recently reported a 16% drop this school year from last in the number of students enrolled in kindergarten. Ahead of the 2019-20 school year, 2,160 students were signed up for kindergarten at a Gaston County public school.
That number fell to 1,872, according to data provided by Gaston County Schools.
The N.C. Department of Public Instruction released data identifying 15,000 less students enrolled in kindergarten this school year compared to the 2019-20 school year.
How is this possible, you ask?
In North Carolina, parents aren’t legally required to send their child in school until the child turns 7. Children are eligible to attend kindergarten at age 5.
North Carolina school districts may choose to place a student in first grade when they enroll next school year.
Gaston County Schools believes parents of young children may be waiting to enroll their child in kindergarten until the pandemic settles.
“This year, some parents chose not to start their children in kindergarten because of concerns related to the coronavirus,” said school district spokesman Todd Hagans.
It’s also possible that some parents opted to enroll their student at a local or charter or private school.
There was a great demand for non-public school enrollment over the summer, but Gaston County private schools didn’t see a substantial change in kindergarten enrollment at all.
“Our kindergarten program consistently stays full each year. We currently have no openings in our Early Childhood classes, but this is usually the case each year,” said Lindsay Lockett, director of admissions for Gaston Christian School.
Gaston Christian – which educates 800 students from kindergarten through 12th grade – has the facilities and resources to accommodate students and employees during the pandemic. Gaston Christian’s students and employees come to the school five days a week.
Gaston County Schools – made of 32,000 students – operates under a blend of in-person and remote instruction days, which doesn’t necessarily cooperate with the typical 8-to-5 work schedule of a parent.
“I imagine the decline of kindergarten in public schools is due to the hybrid scheduling. The majority of parents with kindergarten age children probably need to have a program that is offered five days a week,” Lockett said.
Gaston Day School, which also opens to students and employees five days a week, actually saw a 20% decrease in kindergarten enrollment this school year from last, according to Associate Head of School Davidson Hobson.
To keep Gaston Day students and employees properly distanced, the private school eliminated about seven slots in its kindergarten program. While actual enrollment hasn’t increased, demand for kindergarten seats is through the roof, Hobson said.
“I do think a lot of that is pandemic related,” he said. “[Parents] need security and they need safety. They need to know that somebody is going to be able to deliver it.”
Hobson, like many educators across the North Carolina, expects the pandemic to have a long-lasting domino effect on students, as unconventional learning models swept the state and stayed with most public school systems.
New kindergartners who didn’t received the same quality of education as the kindergartners before them will carry that with them through their entire education, he said.