This fall, some days will get longer

Full-day kindergarten to come to all schools

May 29, 2007|By Arin Gencer | Arin Gencer,Sun Reporter

Every morning about 8:30, the students in Kathryn Henn's kindergarten class at Manchester Elementary shuffle in, hang their coats and begin their school day.

They play with LEGO bricks, learn math and reading lessons, and sing about the days of the week.

By 11:30 a.m., after the students have left for the day, Henn and her fellow teachers at the Carroll County school take a breath - and get ready to do it all over again.

But this year is the last time that their days, and those of public kindergarten teachers in Maryland, will bring them a perpetual sense of deja vu. This fall, kindergartners will learn, sing, play and do crafts to a more leisurely tempo, as their class time extends to a full day, completing a state mandate issued nearly five years ago.

And their parents, no longer forced to rush morning errands or angle for early appointments, won't need to cram quite so much into a few precious hours of freedom.

"We're celebrating," Henn said.

For the Manchester teachers, the transition couldn't come soon enough. Right now, their students have class in portable units. Next school year, however, they're expecting to meet in classrooms inside the main building, with time for music and art and physical education, among other subjects that are either difficult or simply impossible to squeeze into limited mornings or afternoons.

The 2002 Bridge to Excellence in Public Schools Act, the culmination of recommendations from the Thornton Commission, required all of the state's 24 school systems to implement full-day kindergarten by the 2007-2008 school year.

Among area school systems, 17 schools in Anne Arundel; nine in Baltimore County; six in Carroll; and 10 in Howard are included in the final phasing-in of full-day kindergarten. Each school system has budgeted about $2 million to $5 million to bring those remaining schools into the fold.

For Henn and fellow kindergarten instructors at Manchester Elementary, those changes are welcome, perhaps allowing them to get to know their students even better.

During a morning math lesson one day, nine of Henn's students were learning to tell time.

"Oh my gosh, you're still on the first one? I'm on my third," Jack Blair, 6, said to classmate Jeri Garland, 5, as they cut out small digital clocks and matched them with their analog counterparts on a worksheet.

Glancing at a real clock, Henn surveyed the group's progress. "Get moving," she said.

"That's something I won't have to say when we have all-day: `Get moving,'" Henn added. "Every day, you pick and choose what's more important."

Instructional assistant Donna Martin agreed.

"There are so many times that a child will say, `I want to tell you something,' and sometimes you never get to it," Martin said. "When we go to all-day, we'll actually be able to have conversations with them."

The State Department of Education has cited research studies suggesting the positive effects of full-day kindergarten, including more time for in-depth instruction and one-on-one work with students, and the ability to teach based on children's individual needs.

In Baltimore City and Harford County, where full-day kindergarten already is systemwide, educators said they're reaping some of those benefits.

Baltimore City student scores on the Stanford 10, a standardized test given to first- and second-graders, have risen over the past few years since full-day kindergarten was introduced universally, said Brenda Kelly, director of early learning. That increase likely sprang out of the full-day kindergarten experience, Kelly said.

City public schools brought full-day kindergarten programs to 215 schools in the 2001-2002 school year before the state mandate called for such a move, Kelly said.

Although people initially complained of long days for children, Kelly said, now "it doesn't seem to be a problem at all."

In Harford County, where the final eight schools switched from half-day last fall, pluses are emerging in the form of improved test scores and more, said Ginny Smith, coordinator of early childhood programs.

Scores on the Maryland Model for School Readiness have gone up significantly in Harford, Smith said. With more time in school, kindergarten classes have also adopted a new math program, she added. This exposes children to a greater range of numbers - up to 120 instead of 25 - and math concepts.

"It's just made a difference of time," Smith said. "It's made a difference for [teachers] in terms of how and what they teach. They now have time to reinforce things, to do a little bit of enrichment activities."

That, along with lessons in music and physical education, makes for a "much more well-defined program than just half-day," Smith said.

In addition, teachers have had to make unexpected adjustments in what Smith called the "trickle-up effect."

Now Harford kindergartners are studying what they'd normally learn at the beginning of first grade, leading those instructors to move up lessons usually covered in October, she said. In turn, second-grade teachers also have had to update their plans.

Like their counterparts at Manchester, Harford teachers were used to moving through the day without time for repetition or one-on-one follow-up sessions, hoping their students grasped the lessons, Smith said. "Now ... you don't have to hope," she said. "You can come back."

Despite the benefits, Henn and Martin did note a few things they'd miss this fall, such as the midday breaks when they could recap before preparing for the next group of students, and the chance to correct their morning mistakes for the afternoon class.

Kim Sauers, a Manchester reading specialist, noted another regrettable difference: "You'll only get to love half the amount of kids."

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