Weather disrupts preschool

January 30, 1994|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,Staff Writer

It's become a familiar litany this month for too many parents: "Harford County schools will open two hours late; no morning kindergarten."

Because of the delayed openings -- and the nine full-day weather closings -- the morning-session children have been in school only three days in January.

"It's been the most bizarre winter," said Darlene Michael of Bel Air, whose son, Andrew, has not been to school since Jan. 11. "Each day he wakes up and says, 'Do I have to get dressed [for school]?' "

As the days add up, parents are wondering how the children will fare academically against their afternoon counterparts, who have been in school six extra days.

The county's 1,600 kindergarten students are split into two sessions.

"I don't know what to do," said Deborah Erickson of White Hall, whose son, Andrew, goes to Norrisville Elementary School. "We do flashcards, read at home and work on colors, but structure and exposure to other children are what he needs."

Teachers are feeling the effect of the absences, too.

"It's as frustrating for us as it is for parents," said Cindy Cunningham, a first-year kindergarten teacher at William S. James Elementary School in Abingdon. "We'll help the students catch up as much as we can."

Although the state mandates that students from first through 12th grade be in school 180 days, it is more flexible with the younger children, said Albert F. Seymour, deputy superintendent schools.

"There is the expectation that kindergarten children will go to school 180 days if we can do it, but it's not carved in stone," he said.

Parents and teachers can be assured that school officials are as concerned about the morning students as they are.

"I'm brainstorming with staff and parents on what resources we can use to help us make up a.m. kindergarten," said Barbara Wheeler, assistant superintendent for elementary education. "The big problem is transportation."

One suggestion was to extend the morning kindergarten session by a half-hour, Dr. Wheeler said.

That idea proved problematic because the buses would not have enough time to take home the early children before they had to pick up the afternoon students.

Another possibility was to have the morning children stay all day, overlapping with the afternoon session, Dr. Wheeler said. But that would have created space problems at some schools, where the rooms aren't large enough to accommodate what might amount to 40 students, she said.

"We would like to make a countywide recommendation," Dr. Wheeler said.

In the meantime, when the children do return to school, there will be intense concentration in the language arts and mathematics, she said.

"We're relying on the cooperation of parents to help their children, too," she said.

As the mother of a 6-year-old, Dr. Wheeler is sympathetic to parents' worries about the number of days the children are missing.

"If anyone has any ideas, they should please contact us," she said.

Homestead/Wakefield Elementary School in Bel Air has developed one approach.

"We're not going ahead with the afternoon children," said kindergarten teacher Linda Wilding. "We're doing more enrichment, such as extending a skill we've been working on."

When the children do come back to school, Ms. Wilding isn't anticipating any problems. "They're going to be really happy to be here," she predicted.

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