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Kindergarten programs face-off

Polinsky 10/5/07

State mandated kindergarten is a fairly new phenomenon that has only been around for the last 15 or 20 years. However, in that time kindergarten has undergone rapid change. It was once seen as a playful environment created to allow socialization of children, but with added pressure put on school districts to raise and maintain achievement levels, kindergarten has become somewhat of the new first grade. "Kindergarten has become a serious place of learning," Ohio State University professor Rebecca Kantor said. She has been researching and teaching early childhood concepts for the past three decades. Kantor says kindergarten programs have fast forwarded during the past 30 years. The most recent change occurred in the past 10 years as policy makers have begun taking what was an optional half day program and turning it into a required full day program.Ohio currently funds and requires school districts to provide only a half day of schooling, but about 70 % of Ohio school districts offer a full day option charging tuition, in some cases, to cover the costs. Kantor said full day programs are more common in urban school districts. "The urban schools see full day as an important strategy to lift the achievement levels and the child outcome levels in their districts. It is a priority because of the pressure to raise the achievement levels of their students which the suburban schools do not struggle with as much," she said. Columbus City Schools, Whitehall and Groveport Madison are the only districts in Franklin County that offer only full day programs that are tuition free. Grandview Heights and Worthington offer an all day option for a fee while the rest of the districts provide half day kindergarten only. Marianne Mowry teaches an all day program at Slate Hill Elementary in Worthington. She has 22 kids in her class, 11 of whom are bilingual, and said a full day setting allows her to spend more time on certain subjects. "Full day and half day are required to do the same standards. It is just that we can do things in a longer period of time and we can do things everyday. In a half day they may have to do math one day but writing workshop one day," Mowry said. Just next door is Beth McHugh's half day class that meets five days a week for two and half hours. McHugh says she manages to fit in every subject every day except phonics and handwriting but she said her day has to be very fast paced. "My biggest challenge is time management. A lot of time kids get involved in an activity and they want to spend more time on it but knowing that when you have a half day you need to continue to move on." In Grandivew Heights, the full day program has become so popular that the district added a third section of it this year. Principal Brian Bowser said the rise in performance standards is one of the causes of the growing number of full day kindergartens. "Traditionally many people think about kindergarten where you play a lot and learn your letters but fortunately or unfortunately those days are gone. At this point we are expecting our students to come in knowing the alphabet because we are preparing them to handle text and learn to become readers," Bowser said. The principal said he likes being able to offer parents a choice of full day or half day program because not every child is ready for or needs full day kindergarten. Sitting in a classroom all day at that young of an age can be difficult for some. Kantor said the argument against making children go to school for a full day at that age is valid but agreed that school has become much more demanding for children and she sees a full day kindergarten as a good idea to help young students prepare for the road ahead. "Full day needs an adult that understands that a child can not keep going going going. They need breaks, sensory breaks, rest breaks, a skilled teacher knows how to put a day together," the professor said. Higher educational standards are making full day kindergarten a necessity in the eyes of educators and Kantor said with the new research that indicates children's capabilities at young ages, longer days in the classroom are also feasible.