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Schools offer, or consider offering, all-day kindergarten programs

Published: Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013 8:40 a.m. CDT

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Amanda Ellis, a mother of two, said she moved to the Geneva area because of top-notch schools.

Her son, Ethan, 5, is entering kindergarten this year, and Ellis said she felt he was ready for a full day of school rather than a half day. But as of now, the Geneva School District offers only the half-day option, and Ellis said she felt her son could benefit a lot more from a full-day program. She said she made a financial sacrifice and enrolled him at the private Kensington School just for kindergarten.

“I think having the extended day, there are more opportunities for extended enrichment,” she said. “At Kensington, they also add science, music and art. With 21/2 hours, when are you going to do all this enrichment?”

That’s one of the points at the center of the all-day kindergarten debate, which recently resurfaced within the Geneva School District. Administrators there started looking into offering an all-day program in 2008, but the slumped economy prevented them from implementing any plans, Superintendent Kent Mutchler said.

He said the district formed a committee six years ago and started researching the issue in 2008. Part of the issue then was finding enough funding to support the program, he said, as the district would need to hire new teachers and “basically double [the] kindergarten staff.” Estimates in 2008 showed the cost of hiring 12 teachers and 12 assistants could add up to about $840,000 a year, according to a committee report.

But the research into whether an all-day program would be valuable was clear.

“The research without dispute shows that if it’s something you do right, it really benefits the kids,” he said. “The reason we’re looking at it again is because of Common Core [state] standards being brought to us by the state and federal government that require more time with the kids.”

Among the new standards, the Common Core provides higher, clearer, deeper real-life learning for college and career. The state adopted the standards in 2010. Geneva now is in the process of forming a new committee, Mutchler said, that will focus on how the program would look and how it might be implemented.

Some school districts in the area offer all-day kindergarten, including St. Charles and Kaneland. Mutchler said any changes in Geneva’s offering would come from the committee’s report.

Sarah Mumm, director of educational services for K-5 at Kaneland School District 302, said the district is entering its second year of offering an all-day kindergarten. The district still offers a half-day program, and she said about 40 percent of families choose the all-day program.

Families can choose the full-day program in Kaneland, but they must pay an additional fee. Mumm said the cost to attend the all-day program is $250 a month, and the half-day program costs $120 for the entire year. She said the cost of the all-day program has been a deterrent to some families, but said the district tries to work with parent-teacher groups and Kaneland foundations to offer scholarships.

While it’s entering only its second year, she said the all-day program seems to be paying off.

“The academic scores of students in extended day kindergarten came out higher than they have in past kindergarten sections,” Mumm said. “Some came out stronger readers, and scores on post-tests came out higher, so we’re excited to see how that equates into first-grade learning.”

The St. Charles School District is entering its fifth year of offering an all-day kindergarten program, but still offers a half-day option. Becky McCabe, an assistant superintendent at St. Charles School District 303, said 416 students participate in the all-day program, while 235 participate in the half-day program.

“I think most people think their 5-year-olds are ready for an all-day experience,” she said.

Some families choose the half-day program because it works out better for their schedules, she noted. However, some families choose it because it fits their budget, she said.

The cost of the all-day program is $219 per child per month, but that cost is pro-rated for students on free and reduced lunch. She said the only cost for the half-day program is the registration fee, which is about $50.

“Cost has been a barrier for some families. We recognize that, and we did lower the cost of the program this year with that intention,” she said. “When we did our planning for the all-day program, we wanted to make sure the child in the half-day program got all the benefits in terms of curricular instruction, and the real core content is in the morning.”

Some parents said they don’t mind paying the extra cost because of the educational benefits that come with an all-day program.

Lindsey Brems of Geneva said she’s been keeping an eye on the all-day kindergarten debate in Geneva because her oldest son, who will soon turn 4, will enter kindergarten in the next few years.

“I think an investment in early childhood education is the best investment you can make,” she said. “I’d pay for it in a heartbeat.”

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