Kindergartners, preschoolers who skipped last year fall behind

A number of kindergartners and preschoolers were held back a year because of the COVID pandemic. This year's kindergartners are starting from behind.


State News

September 17, 2021 - 3:17 PM

Kindergarten enrollment dropped nearly 9% in Kansas last year, as thousands of families opted to keep kids home during the pandemic. Photo by Suzanne Perez/Kansas News Service

WICHITA, Kansas — Armstrong Drees could have gone to kindergarten last year. He didn’t.

His mom, Lindsay, worried about COVID-19 outbreaks, particularly before a vaccine was available for the adults and teens around him. She briefly tried remote school, which was an option last year in the Wichita suburb of Goddard. Ultimately, she decided to keep the 6-year-old home an extra year.

This fall, like a number of Kansas kindergartners and first-graders, he’s experiencing school for the first time.

“There is no right decision,” said Lindsay Drees, a mother of four.

Lindsay Drees’ son Armstrong, right, started kindergarten a year late this fall. Another son, Abraham, left, is a third-grader.

“Keeping them home is bad for their mental health,” she said. “Sending them to school is dangerous. They can get sick. … You know you can’t get it right, so you just do the best you can.”

Lots of Kansas families opted not to send their preschoolers and kindergartners to school last fall. Kindergarten enrollment dropped by about 9% statewide. Preschool enrollment dropped nearly 21%.

That means this year’s kindergartners — if they even returned to classrooms this fall — are starting from behind.

In a typical year, more than half the students in Lisa Reeb’s kindergarten class at Wichita’s Colvin Elementary School would have a year of preschool behind them. They would know how to take turns, cut paper, line up for lunch, count to 10, and recognize at least some of the alphabet.

This fall, only four of Reeb’s 17 students attended preschool at Colvin.

Lisa Reeb teaches kindergarten at Colvin Elementary School in Wichita.

“There has been a noticeable difference in what kids are able to do,” Reeb said. “They don’t know that they have to leave Mom on the first day, and that is kind of a scary situation for some of them. They don’t know how to even go to the bathroom, because they’re not familiar with the school bathrooms here. They’re just kind of lost a little bit because it’s a whole new experience.”

Amanda Petersen, the director of early childhood programs for the Kansas Department of Education, said children’s first years of school can set a course for their overall education.

Kids who attend preschool are more likely to graduate and attend college. They’re less likely to be arrested or struggle with substance abuse.

“Quality early experiences make a huge difference,” she said. “We have a tremendous body of research that tells us that early childhood experiences are a critical period of brain development.”