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01-18-06 Could be a full day?

By Tim Cox

  COLDWATER -- School district officials have opened discussion on whether the school should offer all-day, everyday kindergarten.

Coldwater kindergarten teacher Kay Bruggeman works with her students. Bruggeman and the district's other kindergarten teachers told school board members Tuesday night they support a switch to all-day, everyday kindergarten.<br></br>

  Full-day kindergarten is supported by some while others remain skeptical and want more data on the long-term benefits of sending the school system's youngest students off to school for a whole day. The district now uses a half-day, everyday format.

  The district's kindergarten teachers offered unanimous support for the idea at Tuesday's board of education meeting. A survey of parents also shows a majority of them would support the plan. School board members offered mixed opinions on the issue.

  Superintendent Rich Seas will make a recommendation on the issue to the board in the next several weeks.

  In the area, all-day, everyday kindergarten is offered at Celina, Parkway, Fort Recovery and St. Marys schools. Students at Marion Local, St. Henry, New Bremen and Minster either go to kindergarten a half day every day or a full day on alternating days.  Elementary Principal Molly Hay said all-day, everyday kindergarten has yielded results in other districts. Some studies indicate that students demonstrate better reading, independent learning and social interaction skills with the extra schooling.

  All-day kindergarten also would provide for a more relaxed, unhurried day and teachers would have a chance to expose students to more experiences, Hay said.

  "Two-and-a-half hours goes by pretty quick," she said.

  Kindergarten teachers said the additional hours in the classroom are needed because children are not as prepared for school as they once were. More and more students require intervention services of some sort, they said.

  Board member Joe Eichler said the lack of preparedness is a sign of the times when most households have two parents working outside the home.

  "Maybe we need to catch up with what society is handing us," Eichler said.

  Other board members don't seem so sure that all-day kindergarten is the cure for that apparent problem. If all-day kindergarten is beneficial and gives kids a head start, that boost should show up throughout the school district, they said.

  "In theory it does, in practice it doesn't always," board member Gene Homan said.

  Homan said the district's entire curriculum would need to be beefed up at all grade levels if kindergarten suddenly starts covering more ground with students.

  District officials expressed frustration that no available data seems to make the case for any kindergarten format. Districts that use half days or alternating full days yield about the same results as those with all-day, everyday kindergarten, they said.

  "If there was a clear cut way, everybody would be doing the same thing," Homan said.

  There are numerous issues to consider in addition to whether the extra class time would benefit students. There are staffing, transportation, cafeteria and class size issues to consider. There also is the financial bottom line.

  Per student state funding is based on a half day per kindergarten student, even if the district would switch to full days.

  Board President Linda Steinbrunner said it will be up to district officials and board members to carefully study the issue and decide whether the return on the investment is worthwhile.

  "Is that the best place in the system to put that funding?" Steinbrunner said.


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