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Tuscarora to launch all-day kindergarten

August 23, 2006|by JENNIFER FITCH

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - The first day of school will be a longer day of school for the approximately 180 children entering kindergarten in Tuscarora School District.

Using a $361,000 grant, the district is launching its all-day kindergarten program on Monday with three classes each at Mercersburg and St. Thomas elementary schools and two classes each at Montgomery and Mountain View elementary schools.

Ten teachers, including five newly hired ones, expect to cover the same curriculum as before, but spend more time on each lesson.

"Instead of teaching an inch deep and a mile wide, you can teach a mile deep and an inch wide," Curriculum Director Bonnie Sponseller said.

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Tuscarora becomes the second school district in Franklin County, Pa., to institute full-day kindergarten for all pupils. The full-day schedule is used elsewhere for remediation.

Fannett-Metal School District launched its all-day kindergarten in the 2004-05 school year. Now, it's seeing the results in its test scores and student assessments.

At least 90 percent of children are entering first grade reading at or above level, Fannett-Metal High School Principal Brad Ocker said. He was working at the elementary level when the all-day program was launched.

Fannett-Metal, with three classes of 12 students, is "now seeing the improvements that can be made in a student who comes here with nothing and leaves with so much," Ocker said.

"You can find very little research that's not in favor of all-day kindergarten," Sponseller said. "We've always felt all-day kindergarten would be beneficial for children."

Fannett-Metal's program began when data showed kindergartners were starting the school year without being prepared, Ocker said. The district lacks Head Start, preschool and structured nursery schools, he said.

Tuscarora School District worked with preschools to establish expectations for new kindergarteners, Sponseller said. That includes children remaining attentive to the teacher in 10- to 15-minute intervals, she said.

Sponseller surveyed districts in Adams, Franklin, Cumberland and York counties to learn more about their programs. The ultimate structure was primarily generated by the teachers, she said.

Those teachers, focusing on literacy and math, will continue to use standards-driven, language-based learning and an online program from Microsoft with research resources, according to Sponseller. A lot of the teachers' work is assisting at-risk children, she said.

"Early childhood education across the state is a huge initiative," Sponseller said.

About 50 parents in the Tuscarora School District attended a district meeting to learn more about the all-day program, and teachers are meeting with the youngsters prior to school's start.

Those children will eat in the cafeteria and have directed play to break up their day.

"In those play sessions, there's a lot going on we don't realize," Sponseller said. It often incorporates social skills and conflict resolution, she said.

"Little kids need their downtime. ... You can't forget the developmental stages of students or else (all-day kindergarten) won't work," Ocker said.

Sponseller feels all-day kindergarten will be a fun place to learn, so pupils won't want to leave. Ocker thinks it doubles the opportunities available to a child.

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