By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
RIVERVIEW – The Riverview Community School District’s all-day kindergarten program begun last year will continue despite what many regard as a crisis situation in statewide school funding.
The Board of Education’s committee of the whole voted unanimously on Tuesday to continue the program.
The vote was a particular relief to parents, who believed declining revenues would overshadow any attempt to retain a program that many say is of major importance to early learning and establishing a strong educational start for children.
In addition, all-day kindergarten attracted school-of-choice attendees from outside the district, who were retained at a high rate. The added head count provides additional student-based revenue from the state.
Proponents of all-day kindergarten point to a survey indicating that 99 percent of parents will return to the district so their children may attend first grade in Riverview. The only children who didn’t stay had family moving out of the district.
Proponents also pointed out that several surrounding school districts are keeping their all-day kindergartens.They said parents with children enrolled in Head Start are actively seeking to put their children in an all-day kindergarten.
Plan advocates said busing and extended day-care staff expenses would need to be put back into the district budget if half-day kindergarten returned. Educationally, parents and teachers lauded the learning and socialization benefits of all-day sessions.
They said the added classroom time allows more time for students to work in small and large group settings, as well as individual activities. In addition, the longer school day gives teachers more time to work with students one on one, as well as more opportunity to recognize and address the needs of specific students — especially those identified as at-risk educationally.
One parent re-enrolled her son in all-day kindergarten because she believed a half-day session did not prepare him for the demands of the full days of first grade.
“I am amazed in the difference I have seen in my son because I re-enrolled him in kindergarten with a full day,” said one mother. “It was the best thing that I ever did. There is no way that my son would have been ready for a homework packet after only doing a half day of school.
“You’re only as good as the information you have time to give them.”
Teachers and parents praised the additional time available with all-day kindergarten to introduce students to math, science, and social studies topics and concepts. It also gave teachers the time they lacked before to go into more depth when explaining a topic.
Students also had improved opportunities to build their socialization skills. The increased interaction with other children in all-day kindergarten had a positive and noticeable impact on social skills.
Parent Shari McMenemy has a son in the program.
“At first I did not want him to start full-day because I was concerned with his shyness, and I did not think he could handle full-day,” she said. “But then after the first few weeks with all-day kindergarten, he has done very well. He is communicating and coming out of his shell. He has more time to communicate with other children, and his teacher.
McMenemy said there is a big difference in her son in comparison to her daughter, who had half-day sessions.
“It seems she is still trying to catch up. Both of my children have had the same teacher, and I really like full-day because of what I have seen with my son.”
All-day kindergarten advocates also said it allows more time for parents to volunteer to help teachers in the classroom. It also helps working parents, they said, and attracts young families to the district.
Parents and teachers say all-day kindergarten lends itself to a more-relaxed, less-hurried environment, which in turn provides a more positive early learning experience.