Pros, cons of all-day kindergarten being explored by local committee

Pros, cons of all-day kindergarten being explored by local committee by M. Jill Karolevitz All-day kindergarten may become a reality in Vermillion, as a special committee explores the concept � pro and con � by researching studies regarding all-day programs, visiting schools that have implemented it and surveying area parents.

The committee also hosted a special meeting Tuesday night to give parents a chance to air their views on a face-to-face basis.

�For the past several years, during Kindergarten Round-up, we�ve been asked if we have considered all-day kindergarten,� said Elementary Principal Bob Bowker. �We�ve told parents that we�re watching and waiting before we make a move. Then it became obvious to us that a lot of schools around us are making the move. It became something we decided to seriously consider.�

A committee was formed in December of 1999 to study the issue. The group, headed by Liz Hogen, director of curriculum and staff development for Vermillion Schools, also includes School Board members Mark Bottolfson and Tom Craig, Vermillion Superintendent Bob Mayer, elementary principals Bowker and Mark Upward, kindergarten teachers Faith Tieszen, Carrie VenOsdel and Darcy Korvana, and Geralyn Jacobs, a professor in The University of South Dakota School of Education. Parents on the committee are Brenda Walker, Teresa Gilbertson, Chris Girard, Lisa Waldron, Stephanie Schoch, Julie Anglin and Kelly Gilkyson.

�The committee�s goal is to study, research and visit other schools to see if all-day kindergarten is the way to go,� Bowker said. �We also wanted to meet with parents, conduct surveys, and in the end, make a recommendation to the school board, because the school board is the one that makes the final decision.�

Research has shown the committee, according to Hogen, that all-day kindergarten has several benefits, including:

? Increased achievement and greater development of social skills

? Less pressure, more relaxed atmosphere when there is more time to teach;

? More individual attention and more classroom involvement;

? Two meals are served;

? Alleviates pressure on parents for transportation and daycare;

? Provides a stable schedule.

Hogen added that fatigue was not a problem according to the studies the committee read.

Cons, however, included limited time for parents and children to interact, school funding, space and student readiness.

�We did find a conflicting issue in that fatigue was noted in the arguments against all-day kindergarten,� Hogen said.

The committee also surveyed area schools.

�Seventeen of the 20 schools we surveyed indicated that they have already implemented all-day kindergarten, are studying it this year or are planning to go with it next year,� Hogen said.

By visiting a Sioux Falls school and one at Akron, IA, the committee learned about several more benefits to all-day kindergarten, including:

? Continuity, consistency and stability;

? Higher achievement and socialization;

? Teachers get to know the students better and longer;

? Increased feeling of belonging and closer relationships with peers;

? More learning time.

�And the students were not tired � but the teachers were!� Hogen laughed.

The committee is now continuing its survey process, but called the meeting with parents to get a personal feeling about reactions to all-day kindergarten in Vermillion.

One of the concerns raised was the size of the classrooms. As of March 14, 106 students were on the Kindergarten Round-up list, Upward said. If all-day kindergarten was implemented, three teachers would be added in order to keep class numbers at about 16 to 18 per teacher. Classroom space, however, would initially be a problem.

�We could implement all-day kindergarten next fall, but we would have to find space � there is no room at Austin,� Bowker said. �We do have a temporary plan that would work for a year. That plan will be presented to the school board at the April 10 meeting.�

�We feel a temporary facility would be better than not doing all-day kindergarten at all,� Hogen added.

Scheduling of activities was also questioned. Curriculum would be set up in such a way that academics would be heavy in the morning, with more time in the afternoon for �specials,� such as music, art and physical education. Bowker added that teachers would benefit with the added time to do their jobs.

�There would be no rush like there is now in the half-day setting � do a little reading, then art, then it�s time for recess, and then the kids go home,� he said. �And the schedule would vary enough so that there is a learning experience all day. An all-day format would also give teachers the time to teach, spend more time with kids who aren�t getting it and expand on those who are.�

Present kindergarten teachers expressed their opinions regarding an all-day schedule.

�I feel very rushed in the half-day format,� Korvana said. �We start one thing and then it�s time to do something else, pretty soon it�s recess time.�

�As the state�s mandated curriculum changes, there won�t be enough time to teach it,� Tieszen added.

Funding was also discussed. In South Dakota, schools are reimbursed by the state 100 percent for kindergarten students, whether they attend all day or not, Bowker said. He added his hopes for funding approval by the Vermillion School Board.

�If we find that it�s an important enough program for Vermillion students, then it should be funded,� Bowker said. �That would be our recommendation to the board. We would need three more teachers, but if that�s what�s best for our kids ?�

The benefits of all-day kindergarten, in relation to how they achieve in higher grades, was another point of discussion.

�If we can help give kids better fundamentals at an early age by going to all-day kindergarten, it will make it easier for them to achieve later � even as they reach college age,� said C.J. Stewart, a former teacher whose background is in early childhood education. She�s now a noon duty aide at Jolley School.

�My sister is a special education teacher in Missouri where they have all-day kindergarten,� added Penny Tucker, a parent of two young children. �She says it�s a big plus because it cuts down on the number of kids who have to be enrolled in special education. Teachers have the ability to spend more time with the students who aren�t getting it. There is no rush and they aren�t pushed.�

Another parent noted concern about readiness.

�When do we let kids be kids?� she asked. �That�s one of my concerns, although I�m not totally against an all-day program.�

�I�ve seen both sides of it � kids who have attended all-day kindergarten and those who haven�t,� added another parent. �To me, at that age, they�re hungry to learn.�

Jacobs noted that the school district�s philosophy is to teach according to what�s developmentally appropriate for five-year-olds.

�And that lets them be kids,� she said. �It allows for that possibility.�

The committee will continue its all-day kindergarten study, including surveys, before meeting with the Vermillion School Board on April 10. Parents of children age birth to 5 can contact Linda at 677-7010 for a survey to fill out, or if they have children who will be attending kindergarten this fall, they will receive a survey during Kindergarten Round-up March 28-31.

�There are a lot of things to consider,� Upward said. �It�s not just a decision about changing the schedule. Lunch, curriculum, staffing, space � all of those factors come into play.�

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