All-day kindergarten: Washtenaw County schools weigh space, funding, benefits
Update: This story has been updated to reflect the correct number of all-day kindergarten programs at Ann Arbor Public Schools.
Nationally, more kindergarteners are facing an all-day schedule, but there are still about 700 children locally who do not have that opportunity as administrators grapple with space and funding issues.
More than 60 percent of 4 and 5 year olds in the United States are enrolled in an all-day kindergarten program.
Five of Washtenaw County's 10 districts still use primarily half-day schedules, although Dexter and Saline community schools recently decided to make the switch to all-day kindergarten in 2012-2013.
Numerous studies have concluded full-day kindergarten increases success in grades one through three. It also helps to close the performance gap between the rich and poor in math and literacy, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University.
However, for cash-strapped districts in Washtenaw County, it can’t be solely about what is best for kids — especially if the Legislature votes in favor of reducing the per-pupil allowance for part-time students.
“Districts have to look at it from a financial perspective,” said Scott Menzel, superintendent of the intermediate school district. “It’s unfortunate, but that’s the reality of K-12 education today.”
At Ann Arbor Public Schools, six of the district’s 21 elementaries offer full-day programs: Allen, Bryant, Carpenter, Mitchell, Northside and Pittsfield schools. The Bryant, Mitchell and Pittsfield programs, implemented nine years ago, are the oldest of the all-day programs in Washtenaw County.
Of Ann Arbor’s nearly 1,200 kindergarteners, approximately 430 — or 36 percent —are enrolled at these three schools. Of the remaining 770 students, 240 attend a tuition-based, non-instructional “extended day” program, while the rest are on a traditional half-day schedule.
District spokeswoman Liz Margolis said the cost of implementing additional full-day programs at other schools is being explored.
“Right now, we are doing an assessment of the available space at every elementary school,” she said. “That will be the first step in determining the all-day K switch. But this is something the district is seriously looking at.”
She said she is unsure whether the administration will consider switching for the upcoming school year or not. AAPS also is facing a $14-million budget shortfall.
Whitmore Lake, which launched a full-day kindergarten schedule about six years ago, went back to a traditional half-day format prior to 2010-2011.
“It was a purely financial decision and was a very difficult decision to make,” said Superintendent Kimberley Hart. “We had few other options.”
She said the district looked at reducing class sizes but in an attempt to do the most good for the greatest number of students in all grades, decided to save the $120,000 by reverting to half-day classes.
Hart said if the Legislature votes to reduce funding for half-day pupils, Whitmore Lake will have to crunch numbers to determine whether the two teachers it would need to hire to reinstate all-day kindergarten or the loss of its foundation allowance will cost the district less money.
“We are not sure what we’ll do,” she said. “We’ll wait as long as we can (for the Legislature to take a stance) but at a certain point, we’ll have to make a decision to risk going forward with or without (the all-day program) because we’ll have to get classrooms ready.”
Milan is the only other district in Washtenaw County that still uses a half-day schedule. Ypsilanti, Willow Run, Lincoln, Manchester, Chelsea and now Dexter and Saline (for 2012-2013) have switched to full-day programs.
Today, more parents are looking for a full-day program, Hart said, adding sometimes it’s an issue of needing morning or afternoon daycare.
Parents who favor a half-day program often have a parent at home and believe he or she can work with the child or these parents just believe their child is not emotionally or developmentally ready for a full day of class, said Sharon Irvine, director of human resources for Ypsilanti schools and a former elementary principal.
Hart said Whitmore Lake’s kindergarten enrollment numbers may have suffered “a little bit” now that the district no longer offers an all-day option.
Currently, Whitmore Lake has about 80 kindergarteners.
Manchester Community Schools Superintendent Cherie Vannatter said her district has seen a slight increase in kindergarten enrollment since switching. However, she added there is no way to empirically link the count to the full-day program.
Irvine said when Ypsilanti schools first went to all-day kindergarten in 2002-2003, the children were very fatigued by the end of the day and had more behavioral issues than the previous year’s kindergarteners.
“It took about a month for those issues that weren’t as pronounced with the half-day schedule to improve,” she said.
However, Irvine added Ypsilanti saw fewer behavioral problems at the first-grade level after children already were accustomed to a full day.
Teachers also had to change the way they taught to incorporate the more structured, heavier curriculum into the morning hours when children were more attentive and less tired, Irvine said.
Kerrie Thomason, kindergarten teacher at the Perry Childhood Development Center in Ypsilanti, described how she has been able to implement more science and social studies lessons into her pupils’ schedule with the extra half day. She said before, the emphasis was on math and reading.
"One thing we really noticed was that children, regardless of ethnicity, were more equally matched in what they were able to do at the end of the year in literacy," Irvine added.
Thomason said not having to break up lessons into smaller segments and leave to attend recess or music — as was often the case with half-day kindergarten — has greatly increased pupils’ retention and comprehension of the material.
Vannatter said all-day kindergarten is necessary in preparing pupils for high school and college. She also said our society mandates it by exposing children to knowledge at an earlier age.
“If you think back 20 years ago, children were coming into kindergarten and learning their colors,” she said. “Well, now they know their colors. We don’t have to spend time on the real basic skills anymore because they are getting those either from home, TV exposure or technology exposure and we are able to jump into the core curriculum faster.”
Vannatter said children are learning more nowadays and schools need to adjust to children’s expectations and do so in a way that is developmentally appropriate. She believes all-day kindergarten helps fulfill that mission.