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Full-day K = worry, excitement

Banks, Gaston and Forest Grove districts prepare for mandate: longer daily sessions with five-year-olds

NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Suzanne Cordes sets up her kindergarten classroom at Fern Hill Elementary School Monday in preparation for a full day as the Forest Grove School District gets ready to begin the 2015-16 academic year.It’s an opportunity to double the hours children are immersed in learning, giving them a boost for the rest of their elementary school days and kick-starting necessary skills for fluent reading by third grade.

But it also gives kids packed daily schedules starting at age five, takes away nap time and keeps them away from their families longer at an earlier age.

It’s the controversial full-day kindergarten, now required statewide and starting in local public schools in two weeks.

“I’m glad my last child made it through before they implemented the full day; it’s too much for a five year old,” said Wendy Hansen, who has children in the Forest Grove School District, including one who finished kindergarten in June. “She got everything she needed in a half day.”

“We loved [full-day kindergarten]. I was concerned for him being ready for a full day in first grade,” but not anymore, said Terri Friedl, who sent her twins to kindergarten at Visitation Catholic School in Verboort in part because of the full-day structure. “The full day gives them time to focus on a variety of subjects, and they got to do it at their own pace.”

Until this school year, parents with students in the Gaston, Banks and Forest Grove school districts had to seek full-day kindergarten out of district.

Catherine Bradley will be sending her daughter to Faith Bible Elementary School in Aloha this fall and let her choose whether she wanted to go for a half or full day. At first, Bradley said her daughter wanted to stick with a half day, but then ended up choosing a full day because she didn’t want to miss the hands-on science, computer, physical education, art and library classes in the afternoon.

Up until now, kindergarteners went to school for almost three hours in the morning in Forest Grove and either in the morning or afternoon in Gaston, and for three full days in Banks. Full-day, five-days-a-week kindergarten was not a public school option.

So Wendy Hale paid extra last school year for her child to attend full-day kindergarten at Pacific University’s Early Learning Community. Her son had already had a couple years of full-time preschool and Hale “didn’t want him to take a step backward,” she said.

Hale said her son was able to handle the full day and took a nap when he got home from school. She’s excited for the Forest Grove School District’s full-time kindergarten because she has younger children who will eventually benefit.

“I’m excited; I can’t wait,” said Suzanne Cordes, who’s taught kindergarten at Fern Hill Elementary School in Forest Grove for eight years. “I think it will be really good for kids. It will get them used to being in school and will give them a really strong foundation.”

Cordes realizes the new schedule will be a transition for children, many of whom will

be away from their parents for the first time.

But she also believes they will have a more

solid understanding of pre-reading stepping stones.

“They’ll go to first grade really ready to go.”

Forest Grove School District leaders hired nine new kindergarten teachers to fill the full-day shoes in their six elementary schools. According to FGSD’s Chief of Staff Connie Potter, adding full-day kindergarten will cost the district about $1 million, much of which will be offset by money from the state set aside to help schools make the transition.

Potter said they’ve received a mix of comments from parents who are excited and concerned. While it’s not encouraged, parents who don’t want their children attending kindergarten for a full day can pull their child out of school after morning classes, but Potter hasn’t heard of any parents in the district planning to exercise that right.

Gaston Elementary School’s transition to full-day kindergarten has been smooth. School leaders didn’t need to purchase more materials or find additional classroom space. Last year, veteran kindergarten teacher Melody McMaster taught two separate groups of about 15 in the morning and afternoon. This year she’ll teach one group of 20.

McMaster has been prepping for a full day with conferences and meetings.

“She’s planning for a full day, not just a double half day,” said Gaston Elementary School Principal Tim Larkin.

They’ll be able to add physical education, music, science, additional library time, and technology classes with new color-coded keyboards.

Full-day kindergarten “is something we’ve wanted for a long time,” said Gaston School District Superintendent Susan McKenzie, who personally saw the positive results while working in districts with full-day kindergarten.

Gaston administrators are on board with starting kids off early and are hoping to offer preschool starting in the 2016-17 school year. “We’d like to be able to support our kids even more,” McKenzie said.

Larkin said they’ll work with kids and parents who are concerned about the full-day schedule: “We want to make sure school is a wonderful place for kids.”

The Banks School District was also in a pretty good position to offer full-time kindergarten, said Elementary School Principal Darla Waite-Larkin. All three kindergarten teachers from the previous school year were willing to up their hours to full time, and each already had their own classroom space.

While the funding for increased salaries is tight, Waite-Larkin said, they were able to plan ahead of time.

A survey sent out to parents showed that many were happy with three-day-a-week kindergarten. “We’ll work with parents and kids,” Waite-Larkin said. “It will be a transition for the community.”

New Banks School District Superintendent Jeff Leo came from the Knappa School District, which had full-day kindergarten for the last few years. Children will likely be tired during the first few weeks, but usually get used to the schedule after a month or so, Leo said.

“We’ve seen a lot of benefits,” said Leo, who noticed the effectiveness in his own son who attended kindergarten last year. “We need that time. I’ve seen the benefits.”