NEW PALESTINE – Members of Hancock County’s first all-day kindergarten class are now graduating with collegiate and doctorate degrees.

It’s been 20 since the first full-day kindergarten program was launched at Brandywine Elementary School. These days, full-day kindergarten is common everywhere, but at the time it was an additional cost but considered by some parents to be an investment in their kids’ futures.

And it seems like that investment paid off in many cases.

Zoe Burrow, for example, just graduated this month from the IU School of Medicine and plans to work as a doctor starting next month specializing in internal medicine and pediatrics.

“I was just hoping I didn’t trip and fall going across the stage, but it’s kind of surreal,” she said of her recent graduation ceremony.

Zoe Burrow became a doctor this May; she attended Hancock County’s first full-day kindergarten program. Submitted photo

Zoe Burrow‘s educational journey has been extensive, from not only being in the county’s first full-day kindergarten class, but she also attending an advanced high school boarding school at the Indiana Academy for Science Mathematics and Humanities.

A 2016 high school graduate, she graduated with an undergrad degree in 2020 from Hanover college and then went on to medical school. She jokes that while people graduate from high school as a 12th grader, she actually became a “20th grader.”

Yet, she still remembers some of those early days in kindergarten.

“I know mom and dad kind of made a big deal about it before I started that I was going to be going the full day, and that it was something that was unusual but it was something I could handle,” she said, adding that there were bubble machines on that first day. “You’d see the half-day (kindergarten students) leaving at midday and you’re like, ‘Why am I not leaving at midday?’ But we had three recesses and naptime.”

According to a 2003 Daily Reporter article, Southern Hancock’s school board approved the first full-day kindergarten as a way to improve learning. The optional program was funded by tuition, but a grant from the Indiana Department of Education helped students from low-income families attend as well.

The curriculum was more in-depth than what half-day kindergarten students were learning. There were 18 students in the first class.

Some students have went on to graduate from law school, become music teachers and chefs.

“It’s probable that all of the parents who invested early were certainly drawn to a program that would enrich their children’s education,” said Cherie Burrow, Zoe’s mother “But I’ve always been intrigued by the fact that so many of them went on to… post-graduate degrees.”

Cherie Burrow believes time has proven the benefits of an early childhood education.

“I think since she was in kindergarten, we know a lot more about early childhood development and the importance of teaching reading to our children,” she said. “(Zoe) was just fortunate to benefit from that at an early age, at the beginning of an educational journey. This has been an educational marathon for her.”

Zoe’s friend Eric Peters also has a success story to tell. The pair became friends by building shape blocks into a flower back in kindergarten.

Eric Peters, also a member of Hancock County’s first full-day kindergarten program, is now an architect in New York City. Submitted photo

“Now I live in New York City and I’m an architect,” Peters said. “I graduated with my masters from Cornell in 2022 and moved to New York City and I love it – it’s awesome.”

A New Palestine High School graduate in 2016, Peters said he works primarily on cultural centers and his first project in graduate school was in Columbus, Indiana. His current project based in his NYC office is to help expand the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Ohio.

“I always really loved school and was a huge nerd and that’s why Zoe and I got along so well because we were both in that same boat,” he said. “I think there is that correlation in a way that instilled it in you at a young age, that this is the place to be, a place to learn.”

He went on to say he enjoyed all his years in New Palestine schools.

“I know my parents really value education a lot, and that was also a part of it,” he said. “They saw the opportunity (of full-day kindergarten) as only going to help me in the future. I think it was a great thing, and I’m glad that it stuck around.”

Zoe Burrow said she’s grateful for the friendships she has built over the years along her educational journey. That full-day kindergarten program kick-started where she is today.

“It was just a step in the right direction educationally, and I know at that time the argument was, ‘Well that young they’re not going to have the attention span to sit in the classroom,’ or, ‘They’ll be better off spending time outside.’ But that introduction to structure and meeting classmates got us… on a good head start,” she said. “Early socialization is just so good for kids as well.”