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Saturday, January 22nd, 2011

Young students do well in costly all-day kindergarten

By Shelley Grieshop

Ross Pearson, 6, finishes up an assignment during kindergarten class at Fort Rec. . .

All-day, every-day kindergarten is considered a success by local schools who have it and a costly endeavor to those who don't.
Currently, five area school districts have adopted the program that was mandated in Ohio beginning with the 2009-2010 school year. The four local schools operating without it have signed waivers exempting them due to financial and/or space constraints.
St. Henry schools' board of education this week requested a second waiver from the state to avoid implementing the program for another two years because of its cost. Superintendent Rod Moorman said the expense would include the hiring of more teachers.
"This would cost us in the range of $80,000 to $100,000, depending on the experience of the teachers, plus we would have to provide two more rooms, which we don't have at this time," he said.
The state stipulates that student/teacher ratios for each classroom be no more than 25 to 1. Without funds for new construction, many schools simply don't have the room.
Officials at area schools that began all-day, every-day kindergarten long before the mandate became effective believe it's a win-win for students and parents.
Shelly Vaughn, elementary principal at Fort Recovery schools, said the program debuted during the 2002-2003 year, and officials couldn't be happier with its success. As a first-grade teacher at the time, she quickly noticed the positive effect it had on students, she said.
"They changed dramatically. Kids came to first grade able to read, do interactive writing and journals ... That wasn't happening before," she said.
Vaughn said having the extra time with students makes all the difference.
"Kids still develop in different stages, and we still have to differentiate to meet their needs, but we now have the time to help them," she said.
The controversial issue could soon become moot. Newly-elected Gov. John Kasich isn't pleased with the unfunded mandate passed onto him by his predecessor and wants it thrown out. Dozens of Ohio House members are lending support to new legislation that could terminate the mandate before next school year.
State Sen. Keith Faber, R-Celina, supports the pending legislation. He believes the choice should be in the hands of each school district.
"I think it ought to be a local option," he said, adding not all schools see it as a priority.
Danielle Weitzel of Fort Recovery currently has a child in the all-day, every-day kindergarten program and an 8-year-old who previously attended. She believes it's been a huge academic benefit for her children.
"They're already reading well in kindergarten and it doesn't seem to be overwhelming to them. They're not struggling. My kids love school," she said.
As a working mom, Weitzel said it's definitely more convenient than a half-day schedule that would require her to use her lunch break to transport her child to daycare.
"Honestly, it's much more convenient for myself and my husband who both work full time. It would be kind of a hassle otherwise," she added.
She knows other parents believe a full day is much too long for little ones.
"I've heard people say 'let kids be kids,' but I don't see it that way," she said. "Yes, by Thursday sometimes they're a little worn out, but I see that in my third-grader, too, at times."
Fort Recovery's kindergarten curriculum includes a late lunch that allows more rigorous teaching time in the morning followed by lighter activities in the afternoon like music, art and physical education, Vaughn said.
Leanne Keller, assistant elementary principal at Minster schools, said she'd love to have the program in the district if finances would allow.
"We've looked at it for years and certainly would love to provide it for our kindergarten students in the future, but financially right now it's not a possibility for us," she said.
Parkway schools also implemented the program in the fall of 2002. Prior to that, the district offered all-day kindergarten every other day. Making the change cost the district about $200,000, according to treasurer Debra Pierce.
"It's (the kindergarten program) about twice as expensive as it used to be for us," she said. "Schools thinking about it should estimate their cost at double what they're paying now."
Coldwater schools is in its first year of all-day, every-day kindergarten, according to superintendent Rich Seas. A lot of discussion occurred among administration, teachers, parents and others before the plan was given the green light, he said.
"The feelings are we like it and we're glad we did it," he said.
Coldwater elementary principal Wade Spencer said the extra time has given his youngest students a leg up on learning.
"Eventually the first-grade teachers and the ones above them will have to adjust their curriculums," he said.
No new teachers were hired, therefore, it cost the district about $160,000 to go from half days to full days, Seas said. The district terminated an adjusted-first grade program and "realigned" the teachers they already had on the payroll, he explained.
One of the "pros" was discontinuing an entire bus route, which formerly was needed for the half-day kindergarten program, Seas said. The school also welcomed about a dozen new kindergarten students from other districts that didn't offer the all-day class, he said.
When asked if he'd drop the program if it wasn't mandated, he said that was doubtful unless the school became very cash-strapped.
"It's been a good thing for the kids. I think we would be taking a step backward if we'd have to cut it," Seas said.
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