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Full-day kindergarten makes inroads

Kindergartner Jonathan Stickrod sits in a miniature blue plastic chair and scribbles I like my mom in his diary, a pack of lined sheets stapled between two pieces of green construction paper.

About five months ago when Jonathan attended a half-day kindergarten program at Mae Richardson Elementary School in Central Point, he struggled for the most basic reading and writing skills, such as naming letters and sounds, said his mother, Kristin Stickrod.

After transferring to a full-day kindergarten program at Oak Grove Elementary School in Medford shortly after Thanksgiving, the 6-year-old quickly made strides in reading and writing, said his teacher, September Flock, and his mother, who also is a teacher at the school.

He now writes about his mother, butterflies and soccer, among other things, and reads his entries to Flock.

Jonathan needed the extra help, his mother said. In the half-day program, the teachers didn't have the time to give him the attention he needed in reading.

Recognizing the academic benefits of building an educational foundation early in life, school districts from Ashland to Prospect and across the nation are moving from half-day to extended-day kindergarten.

There is a body of research that shows when kindergartners have a longer school day they do better in reading, said Juli Di Chiro, superintendent of the Ashland School District, where extended-day kindergarten will begin in the fall. The second influence is the vast majority of families have two working parents, and having a shortened day is a hardship for them because they have to seek day care.

The proportion of children enrolled in full-day kindergarten programs nationwide increased from one in 10 to six in 10 in the past three decades, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

The Medford School District launched the trend in Jackson County in 2003 when it instituted full-day kindergarten at seven elementary schools in low-income neighborhoods. The district uses Title — funds, federal money to serve the poor, to pay for the longer schedule.

Half-day kindergarten programs remain at Medford's other seven elementary schools because they do not qualify for Title — funds, and district officials say they don't have other revenues to dedicate to them.

A growing string of research suggests full-day kindergarten enhances the academic prowess of children, especially in reading.

The ongoing Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1998-99, by the U.S. Department of Education indicates that on average, kindergartners in full-day programs have 12.8 percent higher gains in reading scores than those in half-day programs. Kindergartners in full-day programs have 10.3 percent higher gains in math scores on average than those in half-day programs.

Now in its eighth year, the study follows a sample of 22,000 students from about 1,000 kindergarten programs from around the nation who were enrolled in kindergarten in 1998-99. The study will follow them through the 12th grade to see how family, school, community and other factors impact school performance.

Since 2003, four out of the nine school districts in Jackson County have adopted extended kindergarten despite declining state funding and increasing expenses.

The Central Point and Prospect school districts began extended kindergarten last school year. Mae Richardson Elementary School in Central Point is the exception. That school cannot extend its half-day program because of limited space and a lack of Title — funds, said Principal Susan Dippel.

Despite the time limitations of a half-day program, I feel confident we are providing a really rich learning environment for our kindergartners, said Dippel, a former kindergarten teacher.

The Ashland district will go from half-day to three-quarter-day kindergarten in the fall.

The Phoenix-Talent School District is considering following suit.

Here we are in the middle between Ashland and Medford districts, said Ben Bergreen, superintendent of the Phoenix-Talent district. We are getting a lot of questions from parents, 'If they're doing it, why aren't we?'

Extending the kindergarten program to a three-quarter-day would cost about &

36;45,000 more a year, and the district would receive no extra reimbursement from the state for the program, Bergreen said.

The state, which funds schools according to enrollment, counts a kindergartner as half of a student.

Bergreen said the final decision on extending kindergarten will depend on the district's budget, which officials will begin crafting in May.

Butte Falls, Eagle Point, Pinehurst and Rogue River school districts have half-day kindergarten programs and no immediate plans to extend the day.

Officials with the Eagle Point district, where all of the elementary schools receive Title — funds, say they desire a full-day kindergarten program but don't have enough space in the schools to implement one.

In the Medford district, full-day kindergarten programs have generally empowered low-income children who are at risk of failing reading to catch up and in some cases, even outperform their peers from more affluent neighborhoods who have the skills expected when entering kindergarten, said Julie York, district student services director.

At the beginning of the 2004-05 school year, about 38 percent of kindergartners were at risk of failing reading at Medford's seven Title — schools, where full-day kindergarten is offered. Meanwhile, about 21 percent of kindergartners were at risk at the other seven Medford elementary schools, where a half-day program remains in place. the end of the year, only — percent of students in the full-day kindergarten programs remained at risk, while 4 percent of students in the half-day kindergarten programs continued to be at risk.

That's a reduction of 35 percentage points for full-day kindergartners compared to 17 percentage points for half-day, twice the results for twice the amount of time, York said.

There are so many kids who come in not ready for kindergarten, said Flock of Oak Grove. They don't have basic skills, they don't have experiences with literature, they haven't had cultural experiences, like visiting a museum.

When they're not getting those things, they're not prepared for school as much as they need to be for No Child Left Behind. It's the driving force for everything.

The No Child Left Behind Act, President Bush's landmark law, requires all third-graders to be proficient at reading and math by 2014.

The full-day program at Oak Grove allows Flock to spend two and a half hours on reading with her pupils versus the 25 to 45 minutes she had during the half-day program.

Being in school all day gives pupils experience in working independently and with small groups, all skills needed in the first grade, she said.

She also can fit in fun activities and a 30-minute nap period for which she might otherwise not have time.

With full-day kindergarten, I have time to meet their individual needs, she said.

Jessica Fitzsimmons, a mother of a kindergartner at Oak Grove, works part time and attends Southern Oregon University full time. She said she favors the full-day program because it gives her son time for structured learning and free time to play with his peers, but the schedule is also convenient for her.

It's definitely an advantage not to have to transition during the day and find alternative day care, she said.

Full-day vs. half-day

Only four out of Jackson County's nine districts offer full-day kindergarten:

Ashland ' three-quarter-day starting in the fall.

Butte Falls ' half-day.

Central Point ' three-quarter-day (starting 2004-05), except at Mae Richardson Elementary School, which has half-day.

Eagle Point ' half-day.

Medford ' full-day at Howard, Jackson, Jefferson, Oak Grove, Roosevelt, Washington and Wilson elementary schools; half-day at Abraham Lincoln, Griffin Creek, Hoover, Jacksonville, Kennedy, Lone Pine and Ruch elementary schools.

Phoenix-Talent ' half-day (considering three-quarter-day for the fall).

Pinehurst ' half-day.

Prospect ' full-day (starting 2004-05).

Rogue River ' half-day.

Full-day kindergarten makes inroads"pachen@mailtribune.com.

Six-year-old Jonathan Stickrod gets help on writing a sentence from teacher September Flock at all-day kindergarten at Medford?s Oak Grove Elementary School. Mail Tribune / Jim Craven - Mail Tribune Jim Craven