Parents of future kindergarteners in the Amphitheater School District may have another option besides daycare for their children during the half-day students are not in the classroom.
The Amphitheater Governing Board is currently considering having an extended-day kindergarten option for some of its elementary schools. Some of Amphi's southern elementary schools currently have a full-day kindergarten option that is paid for using federal funding to give parents a less expensive and more productive option than daycare.
"Other day cares are not nearly at the level of quality we see with our own staff," Amphi Associate Superintendent Richard Hooley said, adding that students would be better off staying in one location with one person rather than switching mid-day.
Though research is mixed on whether all-day kindergarten improved student achievement, Hooley said the district has other reasons to start offering the program.
He said one of the main reasons the district is considering the option is to help maintain student enrollment and growth in the district. Hooley said several parents opt to send their children to private, all-day kindergarten, and then those children stay in those schools until second grade when they then transfer to an Amphi school.
Therefore, Hooley said he believes there will be a "big interest" from parents, teachers and principals in the district, some of whom Hooley said have already given support for the proposal.
Hooley presented a draft of what students would be doing during the extended day part of the kindergarten class. Activities would include silent reading, language arts enrichment, group activities to increase social development, P.E., math, cooking and music activities. All of these would enhance what the students had learned during the other half of the day, Hooley said.
However, the state will only pay for students attending kindergarten on a half-day basis, either in a morning or afternoon session.
That means parents would have to foot the bill for the extended day option since it is voluntary. Based on the cost for private schools and daycare in the district, Hooley said he believes $10 per day per student would be enough to cover expenses, which would include hiring new teachers and instructional aids. That means parents would have to pay about $1,750 a year per child.
Hooley added, though, that a portion of the tuition could be covered through a tax credit which parents could deduct on their income taxes.
The other problem with offering an extended day kindergarten option is finding the space to put the extra students, Hooley said. The district only has a couple of schools with the space to offer the extended day option while not losing any half-day kindergarten classes.
This means that, at least for the first year the program would be in place, only one or two schools would be able to offer pilot programs. Depending on the success of the program, the district would decide where to go from there as far as building new facilities.
"I think it's too bad it can't be on an equal basis," said Lisa Nickerson, a kindergarten teacher at Donaldson Elementary School.
Nickerson, who teaches a morning kindergarten class, said she stopped teaching in the afternoon because it was difficult to manage everything that came with having 50 students, including paperwork and parent meetings.
She added, though, that she would be excited about teaching an extended-day class because she would be able to have more time with one group of students.
"There's so many things I want to do and I don't have time," she said about her current class. "I do read to my kids, but not as much as I want to. And I wish I could do some extra math to pound things home."
She was quick to add, though, that her children "are not suffering" by only being in class half of the day.
"I've taught long enough that I can integrate my kids," she said. "But we could spread things out a little more and provide a little more enrichment to make them a little more well-rounded."
She added that she didn't know if students in the all-day program would be at an advantage going into first grade than students who weren't able to be in the program.
"It's hard to tell," she said. "Being at home is really important, too."
Leslie Engelhard, a kindergarten teacher at Harelson Elementary, said she believes children in only the half-day program would be at a disadvantage, but would have all of the necessities covered.
"Are my children going to come out of my class knowing their ABCs? Yes. But as far as enrichment, of course they will be at a disadvantage," she said.
Engelhard also addressed the need for more time with her students, saying that the standard half-day is simply not enough time to accomplish what she wants with her students.
"What we have to accomplish in two and a half hours is almost impossible," she said. "Our concern is we're going so fast."
Engelhard said she is able to get all of the basics covered, but would like to see more "creative play" worked into the curriculum.
While both teachers understand that having an all-day option isn't possible at every school, they both see it as an advantage to those students who are able to be part of the program.