All-day kindergarten debated

March 04, 2002|BY ANDREA ROWLAND

Principal Ellen R. Hayes sees the rewards of all-day kindergarten when she observes some of the first-grade students at Winter Street Elementary School in Hagerstown.

The 20 students who attended a pilot all-day kindergarten program at Marshall Street School last year read better, share better, have a better understanding of numbers and patterns and can pay attention in class longer than their peers who graduated from half-day kindergarten programs, Hayes said.

"They were just ready for an all-day program," she said. "They hit the ground running."

Buoyed by the promise of educational benefits, an increasing number of U.S. schools are implementing all-day kindergarten programs. Yet the debate over cost and suitability divides educators, legislators and parents in the Tri-State area and elsewhere.

Some area school districts have implemented the full-day plan while others, including Washington County, are still grappling with the issue.

Supporters say all-day programs strengthen students' social and academic skills, better preparing them for elementary school. Some say the classroom fosters more positive socialization skills than homes without attentive parents.


Opponents say 5-year-olds aren't developmentally ready for a full-day program, that children benefit from the extra time at home and that taxpayers shouldn't have to foot the high bill for a child-care initiative.

"We didn't want to open up a day care center" in Berkeley County, W.Va., Deputy Schools Superintendent Frank Aliveto said. "We spent a long time planning a program that would enhance learning opportunities. Our parents and teachers are very happy with the program."

Berkeley County began about three years ago offering all-day kindergarten at schools with space available. The program gradually was phased in countywide.

The county did not receive extra money from the state to fund all-day kindergarten, Aliveto said. He said it was expensive, but he couldn't provide the exact cost of the program.

Funding concerns

The Maryland Commission on Education, Finance, Equity and Excellence - which was formed to review education financing formulas and accountability and suggest ways to improve state funding - recommended in 2000 that all-day kindergarten be phased in across Maryland by the 2006-07 school year.

Members of the state Board of Education in December 2001 voiced support for the commission's recommendation, but did not say how all-day kindergarten would be funded.

The commission has estimated the program will cost $71 million statewide by 2005.

It would cost about $10.8 million to implement all-day kindergarten in Washington County, said John Festerman, director of elementary education for the county Board of Education.

The bulk of the cost - about $7.8 million - would cover adding classrooms, he said.Educators would like to see the program phased in throughout the county, Festerman said.

"We'd love to be able to add some more all-day kindergarten classes. Funding is the critical issue," he said. "We feel that if it's a state mandate, funding should come with it."

Local School Board members have expressed concerns about program funding, but the board has not taken an official position on all-day kindergarten.

The Washington County Board of County Commissioners in December opposed the state push to mandate all-day kindergarten because of funding concerns. The commissioners said local governments would have to pay for the program, including the costs of building additional classrooms, hiring more teachers and transporting students.

Grants fund most of the cost of the three pilot all-day kindergarten classes at Marshall Street School in Hagerstown, Festerman said.

Valerie Kaufmann helped launch the program at Marshall Street last year. The former lead teacher now serves as a resource teacher for the Board of Education.

Youngsters adapt well to the daylong program after a short adjustment period, Kaufmann said. They learn more reading, math, social studies and science because teachers have more time to devote to instruction, she said. Teachers break the school day into different activities to help keep the children interested and motivated, Kaufmann said.

'Consistent benefits'

Children and teachers see "consistent benefits" from all-day kindergarten, Dominic F. Gullo, professor of early childhood education at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and a national expert on full-day kindergarten, said in a phone interview.

Students in successful all-day kindergarten programs - in which teachers spend more time teaching the same material instead of teaching more material than young learners can grasp in one session - score higher on reading and math tests, Gullo said.

Kindergartners in successful full-day programs also show stronger social skills, such as sharing and asking questions, because they have more time to develop these skills in a relaxed environment, Gullo said.

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