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Program boosts young readers: Full-day kindergarten effect on students' math skills not clear

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HOPE — Full-day kindergarten appears to be making a difference at Hope Elementary School, where students are performing far better academically than they did when the program began.

Data compiled by school administrators show the percentage of kindergarteners who read at or above grade level more than doubled between the 2009-10 school year, which was the last year before full-day kindergarten began, and the 2011-12 school year, when data was last available.

The picture is less clear for math. No data were available before the full-day program began. Students who performed at or above their grade level in that aptitude was 72 percent in 2010-11, compared to 83 percent in 2011-12.

Statistics are not yet available for the current academic year, which has a total of 82 kindergarten students spread among four classes.

The school district offered only half-day kindergarten until the Indiana Department of Education, influenced by studies that show benefits to keeping children in class later in the day, began offering public schools grants to upgrade to full-day status.

That grant grew from about $80,000 this past year to about $180,000 this year, an amount officials expect to receive in December.

Unfortunately, the cost for the school system to offer full-day kindergarten in all four of its classes and to pay teacher salaries is $215,000, said Jeff Cleland, the school system’s business manager. That means the school district spent about $60,000 this past year and will spend about $35,000 this year from its general fund to make up the difference.

Parents pay nothing to send their children to full-day kindergarten, outside of what they pay in their existing property taxes, which pays the district’s out-of-pocket costs, Cleland said.

Kathy Griffey, superintendent of the Flat Rock-Hawcreek School Corp., said the district nevertheless decided that the cost is worth it.

She said the four kindergarten teachers have reported their students are learning more and are better prepared for first grade than they were previously. She said first-grade teachers are seeing children come to them better prepared.

Jennifer Speer, a kindergarten teacher at Hope Elementary since 2000, said full-day kindergarten gives her more time to reinforce what students learn in class by introducing more projects and activities.

She said she can see the difference during down time in the classroom. When kindergarten was half-day, the students seemed less interested, she said. Now, students seem more engaged and seem to enjoy reading for pleasure.

Parents like full-day kindergarten, too.

Griffey said parents are allowed to pull their children out of kindergarten class early any day, and their children can still meet class requirements. But she said almost all parents keep their children in for the full seven-hour day.

“It’s obvious that full-day kindergarten is the way to go,” said Lisa Smith, principal at Hope Elementary School, the only elementary school in the Flat Rock-Hawcreek school system. “Parents want what’s best for their children.”

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