Schools, parents, kids get ready for full-day, everyday kindergarten
June 24, 2007
By ANDREA JOHNSON, Staff Writer
Minot Daily News
Teacher Linda Hill makes sun visors with preschoolers Hannah Houle, Rayna Rice, Ashlyn Guderjahn, Payton Howard, Tyler Anderson and Tyler Giroux, all of whom will be entering kindergarten this fall, at the Good Shepherd Day Care Center on June 20.
Many area administrators are enthusiastic about the prospect of full-day, every day kindergarten, even though the state won’t offer full funding for another year.
The Minot Public School District school board voted this spring to offer full-day kindergarten during the 2007-2008 school year at all of the district’s elementary schools. Superintendent David Looysen said plans have been in the works for expanding the program, but the district had held off while they waited to see whether the 2007 state Legislature would vote to fund full-day kindergarten for the coming school year.
The availability of space has also been a concern. When he asked for board approval for expansion of the program earlier this spring, Looysen said all but the principal at Perkett Elementary indicated there would be enough space for an expanded full-day kindergarten program at their schools. The space situation at Perkett has since been resolved, said Looysen.
“Is it going to be perfect? No,” acknowledged Looysen on Thursday. “Some schools are going to be stretched for space.”
On the other hand, said Looysen, there will be available classrooms for all of the kindergartners.
The district has added 11.5 additional full-time positions for the coming fall to accommodate the expanded kindergarten program, and has doubled the money for the kindergarten budget.
That will amount to an additional $883,000, said Looysen, which will come out of the interim budget. Looysen said some elementary teachers have asked to become kindergarten teachers, so there will also be some moving about of teachers. The positions added include two additional physical education teachers.
Both Looysen and Shila Wahlstrom, a kindergarten teacher at Sunnyside Elementary, said that full-day kindergarten is becoming the norm across the country. Available kindergarten curriculums are often written for full-day kindergarten programs. Half-day programs have to adapt the full-day curriculums for their use.
The full-day kindergarten program already in operation at Sunnyside Elementary has helped Minot teachers and administrators make plans for expanding full-day kindergarten to other schools in the district. Sunnyside’s full-day program was funded with a federal Reading First grant, as are several other full-day kindergarten classes at schools across the state. However, the Reading First grant wouldn’t cover the costs of full-day kindergarten at some of the other elementary schools. About half the elementaries in the district had full-day, alternating day kindergarten, during the last school year, said Looysen. Whether full-day kindergarten was offered on alternating days was left up to the discretion of the elementary principals and site committees at those schools.
Wahlstrom said she thinks the extra expenditures on a full-day, every day kindergarten program at all of the elementaries in the school district will be well worth it.
“It is fantastic,” she said. “I truly believe that it is the best thing for our kindergarten kids. It is amazing what that extra time does for them.”
Wahlstrom said school teachers are required to meet state and federal education standards. Trying to cram all that they must teach into a half-day kindergarten program is difficult, she said, while a full day program allows teachers to spend more time on academics as well as on some of the fun parts of kindergarten.
Curriculum coordinator Steve Joyal said kindergarten teachers spent about two days earlier this month planning and adjusting the kindergarten curriculum to adapt it for a longer day. Additional kindergarten teachers, physical education and music teachers are being hired.
“Otherwise, they’ll go further with the math and language,” said Joyal.
One common concern about expanding to a full-day kindergarten program is whether 5- and 6-year-olds will be able to handle a full day of classes.
Wahlstrom said she hasn’t seen any indications that this is a problem.
“Those kids can handle it,” she said. “They loved every minute of it … I didn’t see kids who were stressing.”
A full day is actually less stressful for kindergartners, Wahlstrom thinks, because teachers trying to fit in academics aren’t so rushed.
“They have more time in their day to just be kids,” she said.
Wahlstrom said she thinks the full-day program benefited kindergartners at Sunnyside academically and socially. She said she received nothing but positive comments from parents of kids in her class about the full-day program.
Two parents of children about to enter kindergarten this fall said they’re also in favor of the expanded program.
“I think it’s great, just because of so much they have to know before first grade,” said Delrae Wohlk, whose daughter, Lanie, will be a kindergartner at Lincoln Elementary in the fall. Wohlk estimates about 90 percent of her friends are also in favor of the move to full-day kindergarten. Another 10 percent are worried that a full-day program will be too long for children beginning school. No one she’s talked with has plans to enroll their kids in another district that has only a half-day kindergarten program, though, said Wohlk.
Shelly Giroux lives in the Burlington-Des Lacs School District, which won’t be offering full-day kindergarten this year. She thinks a full-day kindergarten is important enough that she’s considering enrolling her son, Tyler, in the Minot school district. Her sister-in-law lives across the street from Edison Elementary and will be able to watch Tyler after school, said Giroux.
Giroux said Tyler, who has been in day care since he was a year old, is ready for a full-day kindergarten program. He’s been well prepared by the activities he’s participated in at Good Shepherd Daycare for a full day of kindergarten. Giroux said she doesn’t think a half-day program gives teachers enough time to get things rolling. By the time children in a half-day kindergarten program have had their snack, played at recess, and are getting settled into the school day, it’s already time for them to leave, said Giroux.
Other school districts in the area are taking different approaches to full-day kindergarten for the 2007-2008 school year.
In the Bismarck school district, five elementary schools will offer full-day kindergarten this fall, said assistant superintendent Rick Buresh. Most of the schools where the full-day kindergarten will be offered are Title I schools, said Buresh. Title I funding is given to schools with a certain percentage of children who are eligible for free and reduced price lunches. Bismarck will spend about an additional $400,000 to expand the program this fall.
Full-day kindergarten won’t be added at all of the schools in the Bismarck school district during the coming year both because Buresh anticipates it might be difficult to hire so many kindergarten teachers when other districts might also be seeking to hire them and because of available space.
“We’re going to have some problems with having enough space to accommodate all of them,” said Buresh.
Still, Buresh, like Looysen, is enthusiastic about the academic advantages that a full-day kindergarten program can offer. He said children are like sponges at that age.
“We think this provides a great opportunity,” said Buresh. “It’s a whole half-year we’re gaining.”
Williston Public Schools had initially planned to make the transition to full-day kindergarten at some point in January, said superintendent Warren Larson, but the school board decided earlier this week to start full-day kindergarten in the fall instead.
“The problem isn’t planning, the problem is space,” said Larson. He said the oil boom going on in the Williston area makes it hard to find a contractor who can do the building work needed to get the program going.
Larson said expanding to a full-day, every day kindergarten program will cost about $300,000 to $400,000 and require the hiring of three more kindergarten teachers.
Larson, like other administrators, said he saw kindergartners make advances when they are enrolled in a full-day program.
“We did a pilot program on an all-day classroom last year with kids who were in need and we saw huge successes and growth,” said Larson. “They actually surpassed the half-day kids who weren’t at risk.”
Mike Ness, superintendent at Hazen, said the kindergarten program will be expanding a bit, but they won’t be going to full-day, every day kindergarten for the 2007-2008 school year.
“The funding was the factor,” he said.
Devils Lake has offered full-day kindergarten for several years at a couple of the elementaries, also using Reading First dollars, said superintendent Steve Swiontek. He said receiving funding from the state for the 2008-2009 school year will be extremely welcome. Swiontek said full-day kindergarten has clear advantages for children.
“It gave us a great deal more time to work with kids,” said Swiontek.
The program is so popular, said Swiontek, that “if we took it (away), I think I would be hung in effigy if I said we didn’t have the funding for it.”