Kindergarten dilemma discussed |

Kindergarten dilemma discussed

Parents of students in Lana Youngberg’s full-day kindergarten class appeared before the school board Tuesday evening to voice their dissatisfaction with what they view as discrimination against Latino students. Paula Hernandez said that her child came home from school one day and asked her, "Why are there only kids in my class that speak my language [Spanish]?"

Hernandez told the school board that the students won’t make the effort to speak English if all of their classmates speak Spanish. She said that the students would learn faster and easier if they were in classes that are mixed.

Michele Wallace, Parley’s Park Elementary School principal, said that the funding the district receives for full-day kindergarten must go to at-risk students. She said that the district made changes in the nature of their full-day kindergarten program this year after being told that they had been using state funding inappropriately in the past.

Lori Gardner, PCSD curriculum director, explained that each incoming kindergartner was given the Brigance Screening test. The test evaluates student’s school readiness by asking questions about their name and address, as well as shapes, colors, numbers, letters, and other similar questions. At-risk students were identified through the screening process, and those students were given the option to attend full-day kindergarten, explained Gardner. The result is that the full-day classes are comprised of a majority of Latino students, which Wallace explained doesn’t look good.

In previous years, the district allowed students who didn’t qualify as at-risk to attend full-day kindergarten at a price of $3,100 for the year, according to Ray Timothy, PCSD superintendent

At the school board meeting, Timothy said that the district is looking at its method of assessment to see if it unfairly singled out students who don’t speak English as their first language.

The school board is looking for a solution for this year, and for the coming years. Timothy said that displeased parents have the option to move their children to half-day kindergarten. One of the school board’s concerns about making changes at this point in the school year is how the changes will mentally affect the children. The school board said it would not be in the best interest of the students to change classes right now, or to have them change teachers halfway through the school day.

The board noted that this is only a problem in kindergarten, which is voluntary for all students in the PCSD. When students enter first grade, the problem dissolves because every student goes to school all day, Wallace said.

Parley’s Park held a parent meeting about a week and a half ago, and Wallace said that close to 100 percent of the full-day kindergarten parents attended the meeting. At the meeting they discussed the parents’ concerns and administrators explained to parents the process they used to separate the kindergarten classes. Wallace said she thinks the meeting cleared up a lot of the confusion amongst the parents.

Parley’s Park has made a few changes since these concerns have been brought to light. Students now attend their specialist classes of music and physical education in different groups than their regular classes. Wallace explained that specialist classes are less structured and students have more opportunities to interact with each other in those classes, so integration during that time of the day is very valuable. Also, the bilingual aide has been asked to speak Spanish only when it’s absolutely necessary so the students are immersed in the English language as much as possible at school.

The school board discussed the option of moving to full-day kindergarten for all students at mid-year. The district is concerned that finding teachers, putting the children through mid-year changes, and adjusting the budget may hinder this move. Looking into the future, Wallace explained that she would like to see full-time kindergarten available to all students, but the issue is money. They need to find permanent funding, because once they start full-time kindergarten for all, they need to be able to continue with it every year, Wallace explained.

Gartner said the district receives about $54,000 from the state to fund full-day kindergarten because it is offering it to at-risk students. If the district were to move to full-day kindergarten for all students, it would cost an additional $500,000 a year, explained Gardner.

Some of the concerned parents met with school employees again on Friday. The outcome of that meeting wasn’t available before the paper went to press.

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