Imagine a class of boisterous 5-year-olds.
Now picture 24 of those classrooms all under the same roof. That’s Mukilteo School District’s plan for a huge, kindergarten-only school on the east side of town.
It will be a haven for little learners. There will be heated floors, because kindergartners spend so much time on the ground.
Instead of a lunchroom, there will be dining areas inside each six-classroom pod where kids will eat family-style.
Music and P.E. teachers will go to classrooms so kids don't have to line up their squirmy selves to walk across the school.
And there will be multiple play structures on the playground because kids that age need to spend a lot of time at recess.
The school doesn't have a formal name yet, just a working title: Fairmount Kindergarten Center. When it opens in fall 2017, the building is expected to hold about 550 kindergartners.
The idea for the school originated in a problem: Mukilteo was going to get state funding to turn its half-day kindergarten program into full-day. But that meant the district needed twice as many kindergarten classrooms – something it lacked.
In 2015, Mukilteo even had to turn down state funding for all-day kindergarten due to lack of space. Thanks to a bond voters approved in 2014, the district now has the money to start building the $33.5 million kindergarten center.
What started as a solution to overcrowding is now being seen as an exciting way to help usher young children into their school careers.
Longtime kindergarten teacher Heather Craggs helped the district design the new school.
"Imagine this: Getting down on your hands and knees and being back at that 5-year-old level and looking at the world – it’s such a different perspective," Craggs said.
The school will serve primarily low-income children, many from immigrant families, who live in the east side of town. It's a demographic that tends to struggle academically, "so we wanted a place that was colorful, we wanted a place that was inviting, and was really geared to one age of student," Craggs said.
Kindergarten-only schools are unusual – there’s only one other in Washington state, in Spokane, and few nationwide.
Barbara Willer, a senior advisor at the National Association for the Education of Young Children, sees benefits and drawbacks to the model.
She says a kindergarten-only school has the advantage of focusing on one age level and meeting those specific needs. But it would require another transition to a new school after just one year.
"To stay at one school for a number of years really helps [students] mature within the same school and community, whereas if it’s a kindergarten-only school they’d only have one year of that experience," Willer said.
To ease the move to first grade and the standard elementary school routines, toward the end of the school year, kindergarten-center students will practice new skills like lining up in the cafeteria for lunch.
Transportation is another issue – because the kindergarten-only school will draw from half the town, most kids will need to bus or be driven to school.
But Willer said any model of kindergarten can work well if it’s carefully delivered.
"Frankly, I think the more important aspect is that teachers and administrators are focusing on meeting the individual needs of children, and providing a high-quality learning experience regardless of the setting," Willer said.
Groundbreaking for Mukilteo’s kindergarten-only school begins in April.