Archive for Thursday, October 11, 2007

School board eyes full-day kindergarten

October 11, 2007

Interest in full-day kindergarten has increased at the state level and now in Baldwin City.

A full-day 4-year-old program class began this year in the Baldwin School District. Combine that with parents' interest and surrounding districts offering full-day kindergarten and you have a committee formed to research the issue.

"I think there has been enough push across the state that they believe we ought to be doing all-day kindergarten," Supt. Paul Dorathy said. "At this point, the district has done some surveying and it's been about half and half on people wanting to do it or not wanting to do it. The board is forming a committee to examine it so we might have an all-day kindergarten option for parents next year."

Although the topic might have been discussed by patrons and district staff members, it wasn't brought in front of the school board until Monday night.

Deb Ehling-Gwin, Baldwin Elementary School Primary Center principal, gave a quick presentation on full-day kindergarten Monday. She explained her reasons for the presentation.

"We've been having more parents ask about it for a while," Ehling-Gwin said. "We have a full-day 4-year-old program class that will go into next year's half-day kindergarten. Plus, the governor is pushing for it, so we might as well have thought through the issue before it happens."

The Baldwin district did begin its first class of full-day students in the 4-year-old program at Marion Springs Elementary School. The class is being funded by a Douglas County grant that is piloting the program.

"That's a good lead in, thanks to the grant," Dorathy said. "It only seems logical that we look at all-day kindergarten. We're going to do it, but we want to do it correctly when we do it."

Ehling-Gwin also said parent interest was another reason she wanted to get the ball rolling on full-day kindergarten. She surveyed 70 kindergarten parents a year ago and 34 responded.

Out of the 34, 50 percent said they would be in favor of full-day kindergarten and paying some sort of fee, while 32 percent said they would be in favor but not able or willing to pay the fee. The other 18 percent were not in favor of full-day kindergarten.

The fee she suggested in the survey was $240 per month, which is what the Lawrence School District charged last year.

Ehling-Gwin said she isn't completely sold on the idea of full-day kindergarten yet, but she is gradually leaning toward it.

"If you would have asked me a year ago, I would have said no, because the research I looked at didn't support the long-range gains for the students," Ehling-Gwin said. "As more and more parents are working and needing their children in day care, the number of parents interested in full-day kindergarten increases.

"Of course, there are more reasons than just the parents," Ehling-Gwin said. "Now there is newer research out that says there are longer lasting gains for children, all the way up through fourth grade."

During her presentation, Ehling-Gwin said kindergarten began as a full-day class, but was shortened to half-day after World War II.

The benefits she listed were a relaxed and unhurried school day, more creative lessons, increased readiness for first grade and more individualized work.

The negative effects were less prep time for teachers, available class space and cost of teachers, lunch and other items.

After listening to the presentation, the board discussed who would volunteer for the committee. Board Members Blaine Cone and Ande Parks said they would head the committee to research the topic.

"I think having full-day kindergarten would be the next step, since research is saying we need to start teaching our kids younger and younger," Board President Alison Bauer said. "I think forming a committee is a great idea and a great start."

Board Member Josh Mihesuah said his former district in Flagstaff, Ariz., implemented the full-day kindergarten and it was a successful program. He said he would like to see it started in Baldwin as a pilot program as long as the cost was minimal for the district.

"It was successful," Mihesuah said. "We had a scholarship for those students who couldn't afford it. The ones that did go did very well. In just a matter of a year or two, 80 percent of the kindergartners were going full time. We always had the option, but we got down to only one class of half-day students."

Ehling-Gwin hopes the board takes a serious look into full-day kindergarten so it can be implemented next fall.

"This is something that a number of parents have been asking about," she said. "The board has always said when the legislature funds full-day kindergarten, we will have it here. I see the board being very proactive, because we have time to look at this and research it before making a good decision."

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