Full-day kindergarten for at-risk students | ParkRecord.com

Full-day kindergarten for at-risk students

Taylor Eisenman, of the Record staff

In a meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 12, the Park City Board of Education approved funding full-day kindergarten instruction for students assessed as at-risk in each elementary school.

Due to State Office of Education regulations, the district will no longer be able to charge tuition for full-day kindergarten. However, the school board is investigating creating a fee-based extended-day kindergarten program through community education for those mainstream students who would like that service.

"The board made it a top priority to meet the needs of at-risk students," Superintendent Ray Timothy said. "Full-day kindergarten is a program that’s proven to be effective in closing the achievement gap of those at-risk learners."

School board member Vern Christensen said it was a combination of three elements that made him interested in supporting full-day kindergarten. "One: There was so much parental interest in it. Two: The studies and results of testing have shown that kids that are in full-day K, especially those that are at-risk, retain and make greater improvements because of that. And three: Our educators are also very supportive of it," he said.

History of full-day K

After a pilot program at McPolin Elementary School during the 2005-2006 school year, the district implemented a full-day kindergarten program for both at-risk and tuition-based students in all four elementary schools.

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Each student entering kindergarten was assessed as at-risk through the DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills) test, LNF (Letter Naming Fluency), which measures the ability to name letters of the alphabet, and NWF (Nonsense Word Fluency), which measures the ability to decode sounds of letters.

Each school determined which students would be considered at-risk based on the assessment results. Classes were then filled with at least half at-risk students and half tuition-based students. The Park City Education Foundation provided funding for the at-risk full-day kindergarteners.

The district conducted a study of students’ achievements in the full-day program from the beginning of kindergarten in 2006 to the beginning of first grade 2007.

Based on test scores, it was determined that "Non-English speaking children entering first grade who attended full-day kindergarten were much more likely to become successful readers than non-English speaking children who attended a half-day kindergarten class."

It was based on this research that the board determined a full-day kindergarten class geared specifically for at-risk students was a necessity. "If we provide this help early on," Timothy said, "then those students are able to keep pace with their peers later on in their academic careers."

The full-day kindergarten experience

"It’s the best thing we’re doing for our kids," Principal at Parley’s Park Elementary School Pat Flynn said. "It’s been making a huge difference helping to plug in those gaps and holes for at-risk kids."

Rob Clayton, a full-day kindergarten parent and director of the Winter Sports School, said he really liked having full-day kindergarten for his kids who were not assessed as at-risk.

"It was a good option within the community and a good value," he said. "It was a good value, very competitive with the other options in the community."

As a tuition-paying parent for Parley Park’s full-day kindergarten program, he said full-day K helped his children get indoctrinated into the educational system.

"The full-day kindergarten program is very valuable to the whole school process," he said. "The better the content and quality of that experience is, the better off kids will be in their school careers."

Trailside Elementary School Principal Martha Crook said full-day K has been a great program, especially for the kids who haven’t had enriching experiences before coming to kindergarten like preschool or even just having parents that read to them a lot.

"When you have a program where you’re able to offer more opportunities to experience language and creative play and literacy and numeracy, and you have more time to allow kids to develop, then you create a very solid base for them," she said.

Crook said that while she’s unsure of the exact number of kids that will be assessed as at-risk for next year, she’s sure there will be enough for one full class. "It’s difficult to say because not everybody shows up on the screening assessments in the beginning," she said.

Crook continued that they made some changes this year based on students’ needs. For example, if a student was not doing well in half-day kindergarten and another student was excelling in full-day, they would see if the two could swap.

Advantages and disadvantages

This is the way Mark Etheridge, full-day kindergarten teacher at Trailside, said he would like to see the new program work next year as well. "That might be one of its advantages, if we can leave spots open for kids that are identified later on," he said. "Then we’d really be serving everybody and preparing them for first grade."

Etheridge said the plan for next year’s full-day kindergarten program has it’s advantages and disadvantages. "It’s good because we’ll have a homogenous group making it easier for me to teach because all the kids will be on similar levels," he said. "But you also won’t have the benefit of kids being mixed and having at-risk students being able to model after their more-advanced peers."

He added that kindergarten traditionally has one of the largest ranges of socio and economic students. But, in terms of play, he said if you looked at a classroom, everyone would look the same. "If you watch them playing and watch them working," he said, "you wouldn’t know who was at-risk, unless you sat down and did a problem with them."

In order to make up for the lack of modeling the students will experience in next year’s all at-risk program, Etheridge said he plans on bringing in more with older students as reading buddies and going out into other classrooms more with his own students.

New program logistics

The district’s total cost for the 2007-2008 full-day kindergarten program was $281,000. Because of the 2007 Senate Bill 49, which established parameters for Optional Extended Day Kindergarten, the state provided $50,552 of that cost.

Timothy said as long as the district continues to meet state requirements, they will get about that same amount of state funding for next year’s program. He estimated that in addition to that state funding, the cost of the new full-day K program would be about $270,000.

If schools are in need of more than one kindergarten class, Timothy said he said the board hopes to be able to meet those needs for additional sections, which will add to the cost of the program.

The community education option

The school board is working in conjunction with Community Education to investigate a separate tuition-based option for mainstream students. Community Education Director Judy Tukuafu said they are only in the initial stages of the project.

"Since this is a new program, we want to make sure we’re doing it right," she said.

Tukuafu said they hope to collect information about how the program should be structured from parents. "We’d like to cater the program to each school’s needs, but first we need to find out what those needs are," she said.

This year’s full-day kindergarten parents paid $3,700 a year for the program, but Tukuafu said next year’s cost cannot be determined until all the logistics, like run-time and staffing, are worked out.

Tukuafu was confident that everything will be decided and parents will be able to register before the end of this school year. She said that as details became available, they will be posted on the district’s Web site http://www.pcschools.us.