LACEY - Tuition-free all-day and extended-day kindergarten has begun for some students at six North Thurston elementary schools, the result of money received from the federal stimulus package.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is intended to save or create jobs over its two-year life span. The stimulus money supplements the salaries of teachers and para-educators; the district reports that the stimulus money will supplement or pay for 10 employees, including an instructional coach for teachers at Title 1 schools.
Districts also are using the federal funding to establish programs that local school officials hope will increase student success.
With the stimulus money intended for Title 1 schools, which have high percentages of families in poverty, the North Thurston district established all-day kindergarten program at Lacey and Meadows elementary schools. Some kindergartners at Chambers Prairie, Mountain View, Lydia Hawk and Pleasant Glade have an additional two hours a day this year, but by next year those schools also will have all-day kindergarten programs for some students.
The North Thurston district has seen success at its tuition-based kindergartens in Woodland and Evergreen Forest, said Joe Belmonte, district executive director of elementary education and Effective Schools.
Kindergartners at those schools reach the state standards for their grade by March, he said.
“They are going beyond it by the end of the school year,” Belmonte said.
Shannon Norris, whose daughter Shyann is in the new Lacey all-day kindergarten program, said that she was surprised and impressed that her daughter’s class was covering bar graphs.
“I remember kindergarten; you went and made things all day,” Norris said. “The expectations now of what they’re expecting by first grade, with spelling tests and math, they should prepare them a little more.”
Norris said Shyann was excited when she was asked to be in the all-day kindergarten class. “She was like, ‘Yeah, I get to stay there longer!’”
The six North Thurston schools with the new program have the highest percentage of children on the free- and reduced-price lunch program. But not all kindergartners will be in the program, and the kindergartners who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches won’t be automatically chosen.
The students are chosen if they might benefit socially and academically from a longer school day, Belmonte said.
Andrea Fanto, an all-day kindergarten teacher at Lacey Elementary School, said that the extra time with students has allowed her to target the instruction each student needs.
“With a half day, you’re doing all academics, and you’re just trying to get all that in,” Fanto said. “It allows me to spend some time with some things that the kids are struggling with.”
It’s not always reading, writing and math, she said. Some students need work on behavior, following instructions or motor skills.
Ann Rosario, whose son Roman Farmer is in Fanto’s class, said her son has improved with the extra time in the classroom and with other children.
“Before we sent him to kindergarten, we read to him, we did the ABCs and taught him to write his name,” she said. “But his hand coordination is kind of off. That was one of my concerns when he actually started.”
Roman mastered scissors, and Rosario also noticed a difference in attitude.
“He was more excited about coming home and expressing what he did during the day, showing us what he actually … accomplished,” Rosario said.
Kindergartners get less state funding than other elementary school students, so districts with all-day kindergarten programs have to find funding to supplement what they get from the state.
Olympia funds its all-day kindergarten program for regular and stimulus Title 1 money at qualifying schools, which are Garfield, Madison, Hansen, Roosevelt and Brown. Most of Olympia’s other all-day kindergarten programs are tuition-based. All Tumwater schools have a tuition-based all-day kindergarten.
In North Thurston, the stimulus funds will affect between 150 and 200 kindergartners this year and next year, Belmonte said.
North Thurston’s remaining five schools without an all-day kindergarten program will get at least one tuition-based class next year, Belmonte said.
“And if we had the resources to offer full-day without tuition, we would,” he said.
Belmonte hopes that the district will continue the program after the 2010-11 year, the last year of the stimulus.
“We will have to make a decision as a district how we’re going to sustain the Title 1 all day (kindergarten) programs and how we’re going to re-prioritize what we do in order to sustain the program,” Belmonte said. “That is a commitment of the superintendent and the board and myself.”
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