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A full day of learning

Governor plans on proposing all-day kindergarten statewide, something Crook County has been doing for five years

by: SHELBY CASE/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Teacher Karen Bryant reads The Egg to her kindergarten class on Thursday morning at Crooked River Elementary.

Crooked River Elementary kindergarten teacher Karen Bryant leans over student Blaine Viescas's desk, seeing how he is choosing to decorate "W", the letter of the day.
   Students were learning the word "wagon."
   "The wagon has a tail?" she said, smiling. "Good job."
   Crook County is one of only two districts in the state that has full-day kindergarten, Monday through Friday, without charging extra tuition and fees. The other is the David Douglas District in Portland.
   The fifth year of Crook County's full-day kindergarten program comes at a time when Gov. Ted Kulongoski has indicated that his proposed budget for next year will include a funding option through the state formula for a full-day program in schools across Oregon.
   State officials would like to expand the program to all districts, in an effort to boost students' academic achievement and ability to get along well with others.
   In all, there are 197 school districts in Oregon. Many have some form of all-day kindergarten, but most of them are fee based or for special needs students and not for all students in a district, as Crook County School District Superintendent Steve Swisher pointed out.
   This marks the fifth year of full implementation in the district, although the first year was a pilot year and not all kindergarten students attended all day.
   Swisher said Curriculum Director Dennis Kostelecky, the principals and former Superintendent Gary Peterson supported the program and the board agreed.
   "Parents still have the option to send their students for only a half day if they choose," Swisher said. "Compulsory education does not begin until after kindergarten, although the state funds a half-day kindergarten program on a per student basis."
   Most research supports the practice of full-day kindergarten.
   "Much of the research on school dropout cases and indicators that will suggest success later in life point to the critical necessity to be reading at grade level by the end of the second grade," Swisher said. "Age 4 through 8 seems to be a critical time to get a child started in the right direction in their school life, and best practices indicate that a well-structured all day kindergarten is one of the most cost-effective ways to do this. I strongly support all day kindergarten programs and early childhood programs that begin about age 4. It seems like a better bargain to invest here than in prisons later."
   Students who began in the Crook County program are currently fourth-graders, and Swisher pointed to a number of successes.
   "Principals and teachers provide substantial anecdotal evidence that students who have had the all-day kindergarten experience are more academically successful and socially acclimated to school than those who have not," the superintendent emphasized. "Our state basement scores have been improving at the elementary level, but the all-day kindergarten group has not yet hit the fifth-grade benchmark testing. We are also involved with several other school and instructional improvement processes, so it is dangerous to account for the gains solely due to all-day kindergarten."
   Where the funding comes from
   All Crook County elementaries participate in the program and federal Title 1 grant money is used to fund the programs everywhere except for at Powell Butte Elementary. Other grant funds are used there because they have a lower number of free and reduced lunch students and don't qualify for the Title 1 funds for the kindergarten program. Swisher said original start-up costs included furniture and materials that were also paid for with grant money. That was approximately $100,000.
   The cost for keeping the program in place, with Title 1 dollars, essentially is the cost for six additional teachers and six instructional assistants above the amount approved by the state to support kindergarten for a full day - or $600,000 a year.
   State School Superintendent Susan Castillo has expressed her support for full-day kindergarten. If Kulongoski's proposed budget for a full-day program were to be approved by the Legislature, Crook County district officials could use Title 1 grant money to help the district's math and literacy programs, Swisher said.
   "There is a hidden cost in facilities," Swisher said. "When the district started the program, there was room to absorb the extra classrooms. The general enrollment is growing and we have space issues that results in temporary solutions like more modulars. This implies more custodial time and related utility costs also."
   A classroom scene
   In a busy day of learning for the Crooked River kindergartners, teacher Karen Bryant read "The Egg," which is part of "Thunder The Dinosaur Books." Children generally think dinosaurs are pretty cool, but they can also be educational.
   "And Brontosaurus means thunder lizard," Bryant said.
   One student quietly asked if it was lunch time.
   "No, it is not lunch time, but it is almost recess," she said. "When I call your name, you may get your coat and get in line."
   After her students bundled themselves up for the late fall, chilly Prineville weather, she spoke of the full-day kindergarten.
   "There's one thing that is very important to me, when they do move to full-day kindergarten - to keep it developmentally appropriate, that it is age appropriate to the student," Bryant said. "Some of the kids we have in here, they are not ready to learn yet, but they are ready to learn through play. "