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All-day kindergarten starting

April 27, 2000|By JULIE E. GREENE

In an effort to better prepare children for school, Washington County will begin moving toward full-day kindergarten in the fall with a pilot program at Marshall Street School.

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Between 45 and 60 at-risk prekindergarten students from Winter Street, Bester and Salem Avenue elementary schools will be selected to participate in the pilot program, Elementary Education Director John W. Festerman said.

"Research has shown that all-day programs do enhance the learning of students," Festerman said.

Washington County is one of only three school systems in the state that doesn't offer full-day or extended kindergarten in at least one school, according to the Maryland Department of Education.

Schools Superintendent Herman Bartlett and Festerman said they want to see full-day kindergarten go countywide, but that is a long-term goal that will require funding for more teachers and classroom space.

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Parents at the three schools have not been formally notified about the pilot program - the state grant that will fund it was approved in March - but word has leaked out to many parents already.

Bester PTA President Heidi Wright said PTA members thought the program would be great for the children chosen to participate, but had concerns about them being separated from their home school community.

The program will be held at Marshall Street since that school has the room, Festerman said.

The selection process will give preference to the children already attending prekindergarten at Marshall Street, who are from the Bester and Winter Street school districts, Festerman said.

Wright said some parents were concerned the program would turn into free baby-sitting, but she told them the selection process prevents that.

Parents of the prekindergarten students at Marshall Street should receive a letter informing them of the pilot program within the next two weeks, said Paula Athey, supervisor of early childhood programs.

Before the end of the school year parents will be notified if their child has been selected to participate in the voluntary program, Festerman said.

The pilot program will target children from school districts with generally low socioeconomic backgrounds and who school officials think would benefit from the additional instruction, including special education students.

The program will have three classes with four teachers and three instructional assistants, Festerman said. This summer School Board officials will develop the curriculum, which is expected to include rest time.

The three-year Goals 2000 grant will pay for most of the program, providing $200,000 in its first year, enough to pay the teacher salaries and buy supplies, Festerman said.

The amount of the grant will decrease in the second and third years and local funding will be needed to continue the program, he said.

The School Board still has not formally discussed switching to full-day kindergarten systemwide, Bartlett said.

He has asked them to keep it in mind when considering future school renovations since many schools don't have the space for it.

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