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Grant Watts to bolster full-day kindergarten

Four classes expected to be added at Grant Watts Elementary


LarsonWhile the St. Helens School District debates bringing full-day kindergarten to a number of its classrooms this fall, the Scappoose School District is on track to bolster its existing full-day kindergarten program to include four classes at Grant Watts Elementary School.

Dana Larson, principal of Grant Watts Elementary, said one of the school’s three kindergarten classes currently has a full-day option, but that comes at a cost of $2,750 per student for 10 months of school.

Beginning fall of next year, Oregon will provide funding for full-day kindergarten classes.

Larson said the next step for Grant Watts Elementary toward implementing the program in 2015 is to dispatch the school’s kindergarten teachers to other schools that offer full-day kindergarten to get a sense of how it works.

Larson said the program will not be cost-prohibitive for Oregon schools. He added, however, that to add an additional kindergarten class, a preschool classroom, run partly by Scappoose High School students for school credit, may have to move out of Grant Watts. Larson said that is one catch to the fully funded program, but expressed excitement about the prospect of being able to offer full-day kindergarten to all families at no cost and without a lottery in 2015.

“Numbers and interest are growing to the point now where the state will offer it for free,” he said. “There’s a tremendous interest.”

Larson said some parents and administrators worry kindergarten students may not be ready for a full six hours in the classroom, but added that research suggests most students are able to handle a full day of school after a few months of adjustment.

“Our students in full-day kindergarten make advances our half-day students can’t,” he said.

The half-day schedule is 8:30 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. and the students have physical education, music, library and recess, Larson said.

“The instruction time is less,” he added.

About 40 percent of children enter kindergarten with development levels typical of 3- and 4-year-olds, according to a report by the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators and the Oregon Association of School Executives. The report states those children will have to make two years of academic growth for three consecutive years to meet reading standards at the end of third-grade.

Larson said he sees clear developmental benefits to placing kindergartners in the classroom for a full day — mostly in reading and socialization.

“It has tremendous potential,” he said, adding he hopes to reach out to parents early and inform them of the free program launching in 2015.

The Scappoose School District currently has a 24-student cap on those who can be admitted for its one full-day kindergarten class, Larson said. While the school is required to offer full-day kindergarten scholarships for a percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced lunch, Larson said full tuition paid by 17 families covers the seven required scholarships.