Baltimore County School Superintendent Stuart D. Berger's proposal last week to extend the kindergarten program was applauded by some parents and educators, who say a full day of school is advantageous for younger children.
But others raised concerns about how the program will affect less mature children -- especially pre-kindergartners.
"All this is to me is very expensive day care," said one teacher, who requested anonymity. "Kids want to go home by the end of a half-day. By the afternoon, my job is going to go from teacher to mother."
Denise Johnson, president of the McCormick Elementary PTA in the east county, said her daughter, Amanda, 8, was less mature in kindergarten and had a hard time adjusting even to a half-day program.
Now Ms. Johnson worries about how her son, Christopher, 3, will manage when he's ready for school in 1993.
"I think he's going to be tired and bored," said Ms. Johnson, who volunteers at her son's Tiny Tots program, which he attends twice a week. "I know how these kids get after a certain point no matter what you do. . . . I don't think he's going to make it."
Ms. Johnson, a full-time mother, said she does recognize the benefits the extended program affords parents who work full time. She said she even plans to volunteer in her son's kindergarten class.
Administrators said they are aware of the challenges involved in a full-day program. But most said they have had positive reactions from teachers and parents, some of whom wanted to know why their child's school hadn't been chosen for full-day kindergarten.
"I know that it is happening quickly, but I've already had some of my kindergarten teachers come in and be very excited about it," said Clare Kruft, assistant principal at Bear Creek Elementary in Dundalk. "I think that children are more sophisticated and healthy than they used to be years ago. And I think it will be wonderful for parents."
David Fry, principal of Deer Park Elementary in Owings Mills, welcomed the change. "I do believe it's important for children to grow up and be able to mature in a natural way," he said. "But society's a lot different . . . than it was in the 1960s. Things have changed, and the way we look at children has changed. I kind of think we're staying in sync with society and the changing demands of education.
"There's no question that kids come to us with all different levels of readiness," added Mr. Fry. "It's our job to adapt the program to meet their needs."
Judy Bechtel, whose 4-year-old son, Jay Irvin, will start at Charlesmont Elementary in September, said he will benefit from a full day at the Dundalk school.
"He's very ready," she said.
County Executive Roger B. Hayden and the County Council have already approved funds for the extended program. School board President Rosalie Hellman said the panel will ratify the proposal at its Aug. 13 meeting.
School officials said the 32 schools in the extended program were chosen because they have space available and are located primarily in economically disadvantaged areas, where both parents in many families work full time.
Nearly all the principals said they had received calls from relieved parents who will no longer have to arrange for a half-day of day care for their children.
But educators were quick to point out that the extended day would be much more than a baby-sitting service. Field trips and daylong science experiments will now be options not available in half-day classes.
"You're getting a trained, educated teacher who will help with language development," said Linda Schweer, principal of McCormick Elementary.
Young children, she said, benefit from getting involved and exploring, "and we can provide that with a plan in mind. I think we can do a lot more than can be done in a day care."
By September, administrators will have prepared classrooms, hired additional teachers and worked out the logistics of having, in some schools, as many as 100 additional full-time students.
Educators say that kindergarten is the time to make an impact on children. And Dr. Berger said the educational achievements of the children in the extended program will be monitored throughout their elementary school years.
Gina Butler, a kindergarten teacher at Bear Creek, was a teacher in a pilot full-day kindergarten program in 1978. She is looking forward to the new program but hopes administrators don't have unrealistic expectations of success.
"A full day isn't going to make them geniuses," she said.
"It gives us the chance to boost the self-esteem and confidence of these kids," said Ms. Butler. "If kids feel good about themselves, they're going to perform better academically. This is an opportunity to capture those students and really expand that whole social growth."