This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Kindergarten pre-registration for the 2016-17 school year opens today and will last until May 31.
The District encourages families to pre-register, because it allows the District and schools to prepare for incoming students — ensuring that every child will have a seat and that all classrooms are staffed and supplied with adequate materials.
“Just as it is important for children to be ready for school, we want our schools to be ready for children,” said Diane Castelbuono, the District’s director of early childhood programs.
Early registration also “gives our teachers and principals a chance to get to know you and your child, so that the first day of kindergarten goes smoothly,” Castelbuono said. Many teachers like to prepare their classrooms with personalized items to welcome the children.
The earlier a child is registered, the more likely he or she can attend the neighborhood school, she said. If the neighborhood school is oversubscribed, the District offers places in nearby schools, but does not provide transportation.
Kindergarten is not mandated in Pennsylvania. The District wants to get as many eligible children as possible to attend. Kindergarten participation (and good pre-K) is known to improve a child’s chances to stay on track in later grades .
Kindergarten is most important for students who come from impoverished backgrounds. The District’s kindergarten registration page offers information in 10 languages: English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Khmer, Albanian, Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Nepali, and French.
The District is trying to combat late registration, which can work against getting more children into kindergarten classrooms.
Next year, she said, the District is hoping to start a mobile, online registration portal that will make it easier for parents to pre-register, said Castelbuono.
In 2015, 40 percent of families pre-registered by May, which was about 1,000 more families than usual. Almost 7,000 families didn’t enroll their children until September, and many families registered their children on the first day of school and later.
Kindergarten typically serves about 11,500 students each year, Castelbuono said. She added that there are usually 12,300 1st graders.
“What’s unclear is whether the gap between those numbers are kids who skip kindergarten or go to a private kindergarten, or something else,” she said.
Pre-registration also helps teachers make better use of classroom time. With late registration, teachers often remodel their classrooms to meet the influx of new students on their roster and must take time to get the new students acquainted with classroom rules and procedures.
For preregistered students, parent-teacher conferences occur before the start of the school year. For latecomers, they must take place during classroom time or after school.
“Our goal is always to get as close to a 100 percent pre-registration rate as possible,” said Castelbuono.