Full-day kindergarten overdue in District 181

The time has come to stop kicking the full-day kindergarten can down the road.

As evidenced at Monday night’s Community Consolidated Elemenatary District 181 Board meeting, both residents and district officials signaled a strong desire to see this long-shelved idea finally become reality.

Count us firmly among the full-day fans, as well, with more than 83 percent of school districts within a 10-mile radius having already implemented it. Moving from half-day to full-day at the seven elementary schools could cost as much as $37 million for new classrooms, not to mention the increase in annual operating expenses. And construction could take two years for completion.

We agree with board member Margie Kleber time frame is “way too long to wait,” and support creating an ad hoc committee now that includes parents to develop a short-term plan to get full-day kindergarten on the schedule as soon as possible.

“We have a community full of professionals, very knowledgeable, very strong people,” parent Ashley Gott told the board on Monday. “Let us help you make an educated decision.”

We hope the board responds in the affirmative.

Intuitively, one can recognize the educational advantages as students have more time in the classroom with their teachers. The dividends extend beyond better test scores, however. In a National Education Association policy brief entitled “Full-day kindergarten helps close the achievement gaps,” researchers articulate the multi-faceted impact the move from half-day to full-day instruction can have.

“Full-day kindergarten not only boosts students’ academic achievement, it also strengthens their social and emotional skills,” the brief, posted on http://www.nea.com, states. “Additionally, it offers benefits to teachers and parents — teachers have more time to work with and get to know students, and parents have access to better learning and care for their children. The bottom line: everyone gains.”

The district is well aware of its value, having seen impressive growth this year in the Rising Stars Extended Day Kindergarten pilot program for students needing additional academic support. A decade ago, though, the landscape didn’t quite seem right for the expansion. On a D181-issued survey, full-day kindergarten ranked 10th by families among “mandatory or very important” priorities.

But it was clearly the most important item for the dozens of parents Monday night. One mom said her son feels his half-day experience is “all work and no play” because so much content has to be squeezed in the limited time available. Others said not having a full-day option places an undue burden on families with working moms, who have to arrange child care.

Having parents’ perspective on structuring both a temporary and long-term full-day kindergarten is vital. D181 should enlist those who are so invested in the issue before making such a significant financial investment. It’ll be worth it in the end, as the NEA brief researchers discovered.

“By giving students and teachers more quality time to engage in constructive learning activities, full-day kindergarten provides benefits to everyone,” the study continued.

We know parents are motivated and energized to find workable solutions for their children, just as their children will have the energy to rise to the opportunity for a full day of kindergarten.