Early Childhood Development / For Parents

Concord considers full-day kindergarten for those who need it most

Concord won’t be able to extend full-day kindergarten to all of its students. But it will consider expanding the school day to its most vulnerable students, reported the Concord Monitor. Citywide, full-day kindergarten would cost the district about $1.2 million per year, but the targeted program would cost about $386,475. 

Concord’s school board estimated that it would be able to offer full-day kindergarten to 90 of its approximately 300 students. The full-day option would give English as a Second Language (ESL) students and socioeconomically-disadvantaged students preference. The district would fill the remaining slots through a lottery:

“There are some of those students who really need more time and this would be a way to reach those students in a heterogeneous grouping,” board member Maureen Redmond-Scura said. “It could also be looked at as a pilot program. . . . If we’re financially not able to do it for everyone, we’re doing it for the population that it seems it would be the most beneficial for them.”

The decision comes after a nearly year-long study of the cost and benefits of programs. Statewide, 96 of New Hampshire’s 170 school districts offer full-day kindergarten. The state pays each district for half-day programs.

At a hearing earlier this year, Concord residents testified in front of the board. Residents, teachers, and parents supported the expanded program:

Pam Wicks [said] her son, as he moved from preschool to kindergarten, told her he didn’t like the higher grade because there was no time to play.

“The curriculum we’re using in our schools was designed for a full-day program, and two-and-a-half hours is just not enough time to cover all those academics, as well as provide that social and emotional learning,” she said. If the students had time in a full-day kindergarten class to both learn and play, Wicks said, “we’re going to see more well-adjusted first-graders.”

“By offering public, tuition-free kindergarten, it would make a tremendous difference. I think it’s important for our future workforce. I think it’s important for current workers,” [Concord resident] Karen Hicks said.

A board subcommittee put together a comprehensive study on the impact of early childhood education in Concord. The report included best practices and the financial impact of programs. Here are a few highlights:

As schools consider the transition to full-day kindergarten programs from half-day kindergarten programs, many agree that full-day kindergarten offers several benefits, including continuity with schedules in first grade and beyond, a reduction in the number of transitions and disruptions in children’s schedules, and the opportunity to allow teachers more time to offer more instruction and meaningful learning opportunities. Students who attend high quality kindergarten programs show positive gains in early literacy, math and social-emotional development at the end of the kindergarten year… Quality preschool education benefits all young children, but provides the most benefits for children living in poverty, children identified with special needs, and dual language learners.

Hampstead has a similar targeted program. The district offers full-day options for all students at a rate of $4,500 per academic year. Hampstead waives tuition for students in the special education program as well as  six year olds not ready for first grade. Students that weren’t quite ready for first grade now go to a full-day kindergarten class instead of a separate readiness program. There, teachers get more time to help prepare students for grade school.

Families that are eligible for the Free or Reduced Lunch program–this year, that’s an annual family income of just under $45,000 for a family of four–can also get their tuition reduced.

The full-day option is so successful that they’ve had to switch three of their five kindergarten classrooms to full-day. According to Hampstead Central School Principal Dillard Collins, parents and staff agree that full-day options provide “greater instructional gains for the children as well as addressing their diverse social and emotional needs.”

The board’s primary goal is still to find a way to implement a full-day kindergarten program.

Read the full article here.

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